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The President (1946)

by Miguel Ángel Asturias

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8901720,230 (4.07)56
A personal friend of the President is assassinated. Who will pay for this crime? It hardly seems to matter in this Latin American republic.

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» See also 56 mentions

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I picked up this book with great expectations. I've had my eye on it for some time. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was better than I expected. A superb work of fiction certainly worthy of the Nobel Prize it garnered. The prose was exceptional often times reading like poetry. The author captures the lushness of the scene, the sufferings of the characters, and the brutal realities of the political system with a power few other books I have read can match.

A book that is often painful to read but human truths revealed in an unforgettable manner. Certainly, the best book I have read in some time. ( )
  colligan | Oct 19, 2021 |
Mr. President,
why the convoluted plots?
Whack them already. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
Never named, but based on Guatemala's early 20th century dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, the president controls a web of hatchet men and informers (in fact, even ordinary people write to him to inform on their neighbors and others) to maintain his iron control over the unnamed country. Asturias wrote this book starting in 1922 in Guatemala, and then finished it in Paris in 1932, but politics prevented its publication until 1946.

The story begins among the desperate beggars sleeping on the porch of the cathedral; one of them, known as the Zany because of his craziness, kills a colonel who is taunting him. As with the "accidental" killing in The Case of Comrade Tulayev, this sets in motion an effort to frame political enemies for the murder, thus killing two or more birds with one stone. In this case, the enemies chosen are a general, formerly a favorite but who might or might not be siding with the "revolutionaries," and a lawyer who has also fallen from presidential favor; the beggars from the cathedral porch are forced to "confess" that they saw these two murder the colonel. Plot and counterplot take off from there, with others drawn into the conspiracy, sometimes horrifyingly so, as in the case of a poor woman who is thought to be connected to the general and, after being tortured and forced to let her infant son die, is sold to a brothel.

Although there are many subplots, and many characters, the heart of the novel is the president's "favorite," Miguel Angel Face ("He was as beautiful and as wicked as Satan.") and his surprising (to him) developing relationship with Camilla, the daughter of the disgraced general. Originally assigned by the president to help the general "escape," Angel Face involved the daughter in the scheme and either kidnapped her or spirited her away, according to what he told others. Angel Face is by no means an angel, but he does eventually experience the pangs of conscience as he comes to love Camilla.

Asturias was influenced by the French surrealists, and there are a variety of surreal effects and dream sequences in this book, as well as some lyrical descriptions of nature and landscape, some satirical sections, and some terrifying portrayals of the prison experience. Overall, it explores the insanity of dictatorship at many levels: not only how it views the slightest thing as an assault on the government (for example, when an illiterate sacristan accidentally tears down a presidentially important poster instead of the one for an event that has already happened and is thrown into jail as a revolutionary) but also how it affects people psychologically, whether they are struggling to survive, in prison, or (temporarily) a favorite of the dictatorship. It also dramatically explores the use of newspapers in spreading propaganda and information that isn't true but that serves the presidential agenda. Marred only by one anti-Semitic paragraph, this is a complex book and a devastating indictment,
4 vote rebeccanyc | Aug 6, 2014 |
So beautiful, and sad. One moment you think everything is lost, but then is not, and then it is worst than you thought. ( )
  Kirmuriel | Sep 19, 2013 |
A grim, sometimes satirical portrait of life under a totalitarian regime in an unidentified Latin American country. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miguel Ángel Asturiasprimary authorall editionscalculated
Partridge, FrancesTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werner, HansTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Boom, bloom, alum-bright, Lucifer of alunite!"
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A personal friend of the President is assassinated. Who will pay for this crime? It hardly seems to matter in this Latin American republic.

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