Asturias’s work has long been recognized by critics throughout most of the literary world as being in the forefront of the Latin American literary movement. It was not, however, until the English publication of Mulata in 1967, the same year that saw Asturias awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, that English-speaking readers became aware of his prodigious talent. Critically acclaimed in the United States and Great Britain, as it had been in France and throughout the Spanish-speaking world, Mulata’s success (and the Nobel Prize) led to the publication in English of Asturias’s other works. In these are found the style and themes that are incorporated in Mulata, most notably in the novels Hombres de maiz (1949; Men of Maize, 1975), Viento fuerte (1950; The Cyclone, 1967, better known as Strong Wind, 1968), and El papa verde (1954; The Green Pope, 1971).
Long concerned with what he considered the continuous isolation of man from nature and the resultant conflicts that arise from this isolation, Asturias incorporated nature into his novels, not as background setting but as a constant presence that must be taken into account. Using ancient Mayan myths and legends, many of which still carry much weight within the consciousness of the Guatemalan people, Asturias personified the different elements of nature (as did the ancient civilizations) in order to show how his characters and these elements are inextricably bound.
Though these elements have appeared in his other novels, in Mulata, Asturias achieves a more profound synthesis of myth and reality than in his other works. Through his skillful use of language, the suspension between myth and reality in which his characters conduct their lives is brought vividly to the forefront. In this way, he shows not only how wide the split between modern man and his natural elements has become but also the resultant conflicts.
Though Asturias does not preach or offer simple solutions, the inescapable truth of Mulata is modern man’s urgent need for a balance between spirit and matter, instinct and reason, a wholeness which may be achieved by a reexamination of long-forgotten or barely remembered truths inherent in the myths and legends of the ancients.