Miguel Ángel Asturias was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on October 19, 1899. His father, a judge, refused to cooperate with dictator Estrada Cabrera, and in 1903 the family was exiled to the provincial town of Salamá, where Asturias first encountered the country’s traditional Mayan culture. Returning to Guatemala City in 1907, Asturias grew up under a series of repressive regimes and became a prominent political activist when he entered the National University in 1917.
Asturias received his law degree in 1923 and then studied anthroplogy at the Sorbonne in Paris for the next five years. There he further developed his lifelong interest in Mayan culture while also beginning to write poetry and fiction. Asturias lived in Paris until 1933, when he returned to Guatemala to work as a journalist. The overthrow of President Jorge Ubico’s dictatorship in 1944 brought in a government sympathetic to Asturias’s politics, and he was offered a series of cultural attaché and diplomatic posts that took him to Mexico (1945-1947), Argentina (1947-1953), and El Salvador (1953-1954).
Asturias was now able to publish work that he had held back for political reasons. The novel The President, completed in 1932 but not published until 1946, was greeted with great acclaim. Its successor, Men of Maize, was even more rapturously received and is generally considered Asturias’s masterpiece. These were soon followed by the three novels of his “banana trilogy,” Viento fuerte (1950; The Cyclone, 1967; better known as Strong Wind, 1968), El papa verde (1954; The Green Pope, 1971), and Los ojos de los enterrados (1960; The Eyes of the Interred, 1973), which cemented his position as one of the finest Latin American writers of his generation.
Asturias began another sojourn in the political wilderness in 1954, when a right-wing coup in Guatemala forced him to flee to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, he worked as a newspaper correspondent until 1962, when Argentina’s turn to the political right precipitated a move to Genoa, Italy. His residency in Europe, where he became an active participant in many writers’ organizations, was undoubtedly instrumental in his receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967. The return of democracy to Guatemala resulted in his being named ambassador to France in 1966, a position he held until 1970, when another military coup led to his replacement. Asturias spent his remaining years in Madrid, where he died on June 9, 1974, after a career in which literature and politics were inextricably intermingled.