The President Background

The President Background

The President is a novel published in 1946 that firmly and forever established the reputation of Miguel Ángel Asturias as one of the most important Latin American novelists of the 20th century. The final composition represents a work that the author tended to off-and-on more than a decade between 1922 and 1933, with the result being widely regarded even today as the single most important work about Latin America dictatorships yet written. The real-life inspiration of the novel’s tyrant is Manuel José Estrada Cabrera, the 13th President of the author’s native country of Guatemala.

The novel’s strength comes not from creating and following a character who rises to the level of tyrannical despot and situating him as the central figure in the narrative, but rather from the psychological aspects of how such a character becomes an imposition into the lives of literally everyone under that power. The actual name of the title character is never given—he is always and only referred to El Presidente and his actual physical appearance in the narrative is paltry. Like Don Vito Corleone in the film version of The Godfather, while he may technically be only a supporting character, the power of his impact upon every other scene raises him to the level of leading character. The President thus becomes more a novel about how every life lived under the aegis of a dictator becomes a narrative written by that leader than it is a life defined by those inhabiting it.

Based in large part upon the legacy and reputation which had built up around The President since its initial publication two decades earlier, Miguel Ángel Asturias was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967.

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