“A formidable new English translation.” ―The New Yorker
“[A] masterful translation.” ―The Washington Post
Nobel Prize–winning Guatemalan author Miguel Ángel Asturias’s masterpiece—the original Latin American dictator novel and pioneering work of magical realism—in its first new English translation in more than half a century, featuring a foreword by Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa
A Penguin Classic
In an unnamed country, an egomaniacal dictator schemes to dispose of a political adversary and maintain his grip on power. As tyranny takes hold, everyone is forced to choose between compromise and death. Inspired by life under the regime of President Manuel Estrada Cabrera of Guatemala, where it was banned for many years, and infused with exuberant lyricism, Mayan symbolism, and Guatemalan vernacular, Nobel Prize winner Miguel Ángel Asturias’s magnum opus is at once a surrealist masterpiece, a blade-sharp satire of totalitarianism, and a gripping portrait of psychological terror.
For more than seventy-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 2,000 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
About the Author
Miguel Ángel Asturias (1899-1974) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967. A poet, diplomat, and novelist from Guatemala, he studied law in his home country before continuing his studies in Paris, where he encountered the surrealist writings that would deeply influence his work. In addition to being a prolific writer, he worked as a newspaper correspondent in western Europe and later as an ambassador for Guatemala in Europe and Latin America. He wrote numerous works of fiction, poetry, drama, and essays, including the novels Mr. President and Men of Maize.
David Unger (translator) has received Guatemala’s Miguel Ángel Asturias National Literature Prize for Lifetime Achievement. He is the author of several novels, including The Mastermind, The Price of Escape, and Life in the Damn Tropics, and has translated more than a dozen books from Spanish into English. His short stories and essays have been published in The Paris Review, Guernica, and Bomb. Born in Guatemala, Unger now lives in Brooklyn.
Mario Vargas Llosa (foreword) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. He has also won the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor, the Cervantes Prize, as well as the Jerusalem Prize and many other literary awards. His many novels include The Feast of the Goat, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, The Bad Girl, Conversation in the Cathedral, and Harsh Times. Born in Peru, Vargas Llosa now lives in Madrid.
Gerald Martin (introduction) is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages at the University of Pittsburgh. Among his publications are Gabriel García Márquez: A Life and a translation and critical edition of Miguel Ángel Asturias’s Men of Maize. Martin lives in England.
“[A] brilliant translation . . . Shakespearean in scale . . . Electrifying vividness animates every page. . . . What makes Mr. President extraordinary is not simply its enduring subject, but also its operatic and inventive multiform style . . . equally cinematic and poetic. It is reminiscent of Kafka and Beckett in its surreal flights within the consciousnesses of the mad or dying, or within the narrative of myth. . . . The novelʼs vision is relentlessly dark . . . but its execution is exhilarating, daring, even wild. Asturiasʼs boldness is repeatedly arresting, and his descriptions unforgettable. . . . [An] extraordinary and darkly prescient satire of life under brutal dictatorship.” ―Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine
“[A] masterful translation . . . Reading Mr. President, it’s impossible not to think about the current, sad situation in Guatemala, where endemic corruption, lawlessness, savage drug traffickers, heartless human smugglers, and staggering economic inequality . . . have driven hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans to attempt risky illegal entry into the United States. . . . But Asturias knew how to moderate those horrors by, thankfully, releasing the tension with absurd or scathingly mocking scenes.” ―The Washington Post
“A formidable new English translation [that] may return [Asturias] to the status that is his due. This time, the story speaks not only to Latin America’s cycles of tyranny but to a United States and a Europe confronting, for the first time since it was published, in 1946, a new wave of authoritarian leaders on the rise. . . . What makes Mr. President a ‘tour de force of great originality,’ as the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa notes in a foreword to the new translation, is not its plot but its use of language, with invented words, songs, rhythms, and ‘astonishing metaphors.’ ” ―The New Yorker
“One of the most important and influential works of modern Latin American literature, a kind of urtext for the celebrated generation of novelists that followed Asturias . . . Given its brilliance and influence, it continues to be a mystery why Mr. President remains less known in the English-speaking world than the many novels it inspired. . . . Even a cursory reading of David Unger’s new translation . . . establishes why it has had such an enormous impact. . . . Asturias . . . wrote especially beautiful descriptions of both rural landscapes and the sounds and smells of urban life. Unger reproduces these passages magnificently. . . . Set pieces . . . are so vivid that they almost seem to have come from a movie projector. . . . Thanks to Unger’s translation, the anglophone reader can finally be let in on the secret that Latin Americans . . . have always known: Mr. President is a canonical work, doomed to remain timely and topical until the conditions that generated it finally disappear.” —The New York Review of Books
“Brings to life a nameless hell on earth where freedom is only possible through exile or death.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“[With this] masterful, clear new translation . . . a new generation of North American readers will gain access to [Asturias’s] witty, influential, and wrongly maligned masterpiece. . . . The praise for Unger’s translation is highly deserved. But the fact of Penguin Classics and Unger choosing this unfairly suppressed book is long overdue, the wait like being unburied, with your eyes open.” —Public Books
“[A] harrowing masterwork [of] staggering, lasting beauty . . . A vehicle for lyrical depiction of a people under psychological siege . . . Elegant . . . Brilliant.” ―Americas Quarterly
“A faithful rendering of a timeless classic, a bold translation that at times leans heavily on the original text’s musicality, while at the same time adding a contemporary take and fresh idiomatic ideas to a profoundly idiosyncratic novel. Unger was also able to masterfully bring Asturias’s lyrical beauty into English and even adapt much of El señor presidente’s brutality, absurdity, and humor.” ―Asymptote
“A great novel . . . A work of art, a true tour de force of originality and creativity . . . The opening chapters . . . are unforgettable. . . . Half a century after it was written, Mr. President continues to be one of the most original Latin American texts. . . . [It] raised the Latin American novel to its highest level.” —Mario Vargas Llosa, from the Foreword
“The single most famous dictator novel in Latin American history [and] the first major novel in Latin America to attempt a revolution in literary language. . . . I was stunned when I first read it at the age of nineteen, three months after I had read Joyce’s Ulysses. . . . Without Asturias, the so-called ‘magical realist’ perspective and techniques of One Hundred Years of Solitude might not have existed. It was not Gabriel García Márquez who invented magical realism; it was Miguel Ángel Asturias.” ―Gerald Martin, from the Introduction
“What I find most compelling about Mr. President is how much it speaks to the here and now. We live in an age of demagogues. We’ve seen how the whims and fears of a leader, transformed into deeds by an army of sycophants, can spread chaos through a nation’s institutions. Asturias saw this madness, too, and created art from it. . . . In Mr. President, Asturias . . . exposes the lies of a strongman and . . . make[s] us feel how one man can inflict a daily assault on the collective psyche of a people.” —Héctor Tobar, The New York Times
“A truly magical work . . . [It] captures brilliantly . . . the interior climate of a small Latin American republic under a repressive dictatorship. . . . The portrait of El Señor Presidente is chillingly drawn. . . . It is the kind of performance that strains at the limits of a novelist’s craft and is seldom repeated in a writer’s career except by genius.” —The New York Times