Miguel Ángel Asturias (ahs-TEWR-yahs) is considered one of the three most important Latin American writers of his generation (Jorge Luis Borges and Alejo Carpentier are the other two) and one of the two major influences in the twentieth century on the development of the Latin American novel. He was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, to Ernesto Asturias, a magistrate, and María Rosales, a schoolteacher, on October 19, 1899, a year after the accession to the presidency of the infamous dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera. Unable to tolerate the politically vindictive and repressive measures of the Estrada Cabrera regime, Ernesto Asturias moved his family to a small village near the outskirts of Guatemala City. There, and later in Salamá, an even smaller village in the Guatemalan interior, young Miguel’s contact with the magical vision of the indigenous Indian cultures initiated his personal education and stimulated his artistic development.ngel[Asturias, Miguel Angel]}ngel[Asturias, Miguel Angel]}ngel[Asturias, Miguel Angel]}
Travels into the hinterland with his maternal grandfather to oversee the family estates were also a regular part of his early years and subsequently provided the intimate knowledge and experience of Indian languages, lifestyles, and traditions which would lead Asturias in later years to first the writing of a thesis (Sociología guatemalteca: El problema social del indio) on the social problems of the Indians in Guatemala and later, in the mid-1920’s, to the formal study (and translation into Spanish) of pre-Columbian literary and mythological texts.
The years from 1899 to 1920, lived under the sternly repressive government of Estrada Cabrera, were decisive in shaping the political and artistic temperament of the writer. As a student activist, Asturias spearheaded the founding of a popular university in 1922 following the overthrow of the Estrada Cabrera dictatorship (an event to which his activities had significantly contributed). As a community project, the popular university was intended to increase the social and political influence of the underprivileged sectors of Guatemalan society through the contributions and active involvement of the middle class in educational and other programs for the poor.
Although granted his law degree in 1923, because he was an editor of a weekly journal called Tiempos Nuevos (new times), Asturias was forced into exile when the paper fell into disfavor with the succeeding regime. It was during this first of several exiles in London, and later Paris, that Asturias returned to his diary in a notebook—begun in December of 1917, in response to the great earthquake that leveled Guatemala City—to produce the stories that were subsequently transformed into his first...
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