Miguel Ángel Asturias

Miguel Ángel Asturias

El señor Presidente

El señor Presidente / Mr. President

Novel , 1946


Pages: 408

A landmark text in Latin American literature, El señor Presidente explores the nature of political dictatorship and its effects on society. One of the most notable works of the dictator novel genre, El señor Presidente developed from an earlier Asturias short story, written to protest social injustice in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in the author's home town.

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.

“. . . 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

“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

“.. 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

“A truly magical work. 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

"A Novel the CIA Spent a Fortune to Suppress." By Joel Whitney, Literature in Translation