(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Miguel Aacute;ngel Asturias bases Mulata on a popular Guatemalan legend—that of a man who sells his wife to the devil in exchange for unlimited wealth. The novel begins with Celestino Yumí parading through the religious fairs of the countryside around Quiavicús with the zipper of his pants open, in compliance with a bargain he has struck with Tazol, the corn-husk devil. In this way, Yumí will cause women to commit sins by looking at his private parts and then compound those sins by their accepting Communion without going again to confession. Successful in luring the women, Yumí is next informed by Tazol that, to complete the bargain whereby Yumí will become wealthy beyond his dreams, he has to hand over his wife, Catalina Zabala, to Tazol. Yumí is hesitant at first, but the promise of riches, importance, and power proves too much, and he finally consents. Tazol takes possession of Catalina, or Niniloj, as Yumí calls her, and grants Yumí his fondest wishes—lands, crops, and money in abundance.

Once rich, Yumí discovers that what Tazol had told him is true: Everyone asks for and respects his opinion on anything and everything—as Yumí himself remarks, “Just because I’m rich, not because I know anything.” Yet Yumí finds that riches and power cannot compensate for the loss of his wife; he yearns for her love and takes to drinking and carousing. While at a religious festival with his friend Timoteo Teo Timoteo, he encounters the Mulata. Drunk and instantly overcome with lust for this ripe and haunting woman, Yumí marries her in a civil ceremony and carries her home. There, in their marriage bed, Yumí discovers that the Mulata, much to his chagrin and embarrassment, is bisexual and dangerous. As much animal as human, she dominates and torments him in such a way that Yumí finds it excrutiatingly terrifying to lie with her. He tries to undo the bargain with Tazol, and he succeeds in reacquiring Catalina, who has been turned into a dwarf by Tazol. Catalina comes to live with Yumí and his new wife, and the Mulata at first accepts her as a living doll with which to play but quickly tires of the idea and prefers to mistreat her. Yumí and Catalina hope to rid the household of the Mulata, and Catalina, in a clever ruse, with the help of the Mulata’s bear, lures the Mulata to the cave of the Grumpy Bird and seals her in, but the Mulata eats the bird and escapes, provoking in the process a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that destroys Quiavicús and all of Yumí’s wealth.

Now, even more destitute than before the...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Callan, Richard. Miguel Ángel Asturias. New York: Twayne, 1970. An introductory study with a chapter of biography and a separate chapter discussing each of Asturias’s major novels. Includes a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.

Gonzalez Echevarria, Roberto. Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. A very helpful volume in coming to terms with Asturias’s unusual narratives.

Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. Into the Mainstream. New York: Harpers, 1967. Includes an interview with Asturias covering the major features of his thought and fictional work.

Himmelblau, Jack. “Love, Self and Cosmos in the Early Works of Miguel Ángel Asturias.” Kentucky Romance Quarterly 18 (1971). Should be read in conjunction with Prieto.

Perez, Galo Rene. “Miguel Ángel Asturias.” Americas (January, 1968): 1-5. A searching examination of El Señor Presidente as a commentary on the novelist’s society.

Prieto, Rene. Miguel Ángel Asturias’s Archaeology of Return. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. The best available study in English of the novelist’s body of work. Prieto discusses both the stories and the novels, taking up issues of their unifying principles, idiom, and eroticism. See Prieto’s measured introduction, in which he carefully analyzes Asturias’s reputation and identifies his most important work. Includes very detailed notes and bibliography.

West, Anthony. Review of El Señor Presidente, by Miguel Ángel Asturias. The New Yorker, March 28, 1964. Often cited as one of the best interpretations of the novel.