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Men of Maize (Pittsburgh Editions of Latin American Literature) [Paperback]

Miguel Angel Asturias
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 466 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; Critical Ed. / edition (Jan 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822955148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822955146
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,391,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The Nobel-Prize winning novelist blends the fantastic and mundane, past and present, the supernatural and earthly toil in a story of Guatemalan Indians whose intimate links with the sacred corn are disrupted by economy-minded outside modernizers. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By H. Tee
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is "the" original `magical realism' Latin American novel written by the Nobel winning author Asturias. It was written in 1949 (perhaps including parts written separately and earlier) and set ostensively at the turn of the century 1900s Guatemala (given telegraphs and light bulbs are mentioned). This is the third Asturias novel I've read (including `Mulatta and Mr Fly' and I think only his second after `The President') so I did know what to expect.

This is one of those potentially "difficult to follow", "hard to grasp the story", challengingly descriptive style, muddled novels which could end up boring and poorly rated if the style is a surprise to you. This is a mix of Faulkener's "Absalom", GGM "Hundred Years", virtually any of Cela's novels (e.g. The Hive) and the realism of Torres "The Land".

This critical edition is virtually a college book with almost as many pages dedicated to the introduction, notes to the text, translation, history, Nobel speech and several other sections as the novel itself (about 300 pages). For example the translation has to deal with many indigenous words which are relatively unknown to normal Portuguese - thereby at the end of chapter 1, only 17 sides you're already on footnote 68.

The basic story, which you only really get to understand at the end is: Gaspar Ilom is a local rebel leader of an uprising against the colonial leaders like Colonel Godoy on behalf of the abuse by Maize growers (burning forest, depleting the land etc). Gaspar, fails to defend the massacre of his troops, and is poisoned with the help of the Zacatones family (and vanishes/dies). Godoy's son Machojon never reaches Candelaria Reinosa to propose. Maria Zacatones becomes the sole survivor of her family after a revenge attack aged just one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A rare work of genius 24 May 2011
It is a terrible shame that this book has been so neglected by readers and critics alike (many of whom were unable to understand the book's hidden meanings), but then again that seems to be the fate of most works of exceptional genius in our times. This book deals with a number of deep and complex issues, and was pioneering in its time; in it, Asturias presages the advent of feminism, ecology (long before the terms existed), and a renewal of interest in mankind's indigenous heritage - a fact which is remarkable considering that it was written in 1949. The narrative traces the archetypal process of man's separation from nature and the end of the 'dream-time' (symbolised by the 'eyelids' of the earth, which the maize growers hack away at with axes and fire), or the state of unconscious communion with nature. It is a rallying cry for a return to reverence for all that is feminine in the world - the earth, intuition, the hidden planes of the unconscious mind, art, poetry, the nahual (animal spirit-guide). Asturias details the universal process of internal separation from this feminine principle as an archetypal passage through a series of trials by fire and water, heavily inspired by the Mayan Popul Vuh (Quiche creation myth) and other ancient Mayan texts (not to mention the Greek mythic tradition). Ostensibly set in Guatemala, the meaning of the book is relevant to all parts of the world where the pain of separation from nature and one's indigenous ancestry is a lived experience. As a celebration of 'indigenous' modes of thought, another major theme is the subversion of the idea that Europe should be the dominant cultural model. Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book every being should read... 23 Aug 1998
By Sarah Keller - Published on
Men of Maize is an incredible tale of Indian life in Latin America during the early twentieth century, woven poetically by Asturias. In six parts he simultaneously creates and re-tells history, blurring the distinctions between reality and myth. He interweaves the past, present and future, giving the background tale, then continuing on to show how that tale would become the folklore of the future.
In Maize, there is a strong undercurrent of the clash of cultures that fuels the fires of conflict between the Ladinos, Mestizos and Indians. The Indians see themselves as made of maize, and to have their flesh and blood grown by foreigners for profit is abhorrent to them. As they are evermore forced off their land to clear fields for the commercial maizegrowers they begin to rebel. It is here that Asturias starts his novel, with an attack on Indian Chief Gaspar Ilóm led by soldiers and maizegrowers. The death of Ilóm, one of the magical firefly wizards, wreaks a cycle of revenge that affects all who were involved. A series of battles ensue, and tensions rise, giving way to permanent distrust and dislike between the two groups. Asturias then takes the reader farther through time, showing how the past discords (and the legends that arose from it) give hope and motivation to the generations of the future, as they struggle against the same forces their ancestors struggled with. He creates the tales of many different players in different periods of time, such as the great Chief Ilóm, the Indian postman, and Goyo Yic, the blind Indian beggar. Asturias connects these seemingly unrelated lives with a common theme: each man is gradually alienated from a "progressing" society through losing his land, his woman, and eventually his own self. By this Asturias describes the reality for an indigenous person living in an ever-fluctuating post-colonial Latin America.
Crucial to understanding this clash of cultures is understanding the Indian way of life. For the indigenous of Latin America, the answer to everything lay in the every day activities and choices of the people. The Maya are a highly ritualized culture, even the smallest activity, such as eating or drinking, is governed by unwritten rules. The clothes, the huipil, the essential food, maize, and the petate mat on which they sleep, each play their part in appeasing a higher power (by now syncretized into a Christian God). Asturias makes hundreds of references to these daily activities and the beliefs they represent. Of central importance is the maize, the crop of the Maya, their sustenance, and the basis for their existence. To interfere with the growing of the maize is to interfere with the very core of a Maya, himself being made of maize. Another recurring theme in this book is the importance of the nahual, or "soul double" that each person is assigned at birth. The nahuales take the form of animals, and those animals serve as a connection for each person to the animal world, as aides and companions.
In a loose sense the novel does progress linearly through the years of the early 1900's, though the reader immediately feels a more cyclical motion of time. Often unsure of how much time has passed between stories, and whether the events being described are in "real" time or dream time, the reader is swirled into the reality of the tale. However, by the end of the book the reader, almost surprised, finds each story tied to another in some form, with the final revelation of the identity of the betrayess, María Tecún, completing all cycles.
Asturias' ability to write from the native perspective is amazing. He has succeeded in making this novel a mystical and magical experience for the reader. Through his poetic language Asturias places the reader right in the heart of the forest, with magical fireflies swarming about and rain pelting down on the dusty paths. He has masterfully recreated in writing the lack of acknowledgement of time that is pervasive throughout Latin America. It is no easy feat to put in writing la magia de lo real, or, the magic of reality, and Asturias has done it well. He has shared with the reader an existence contrary to "Western" consciousness, where no thing is governed by "Western" rules, yet this existence found itself trying to reconcile itself with the ever-"Westernizing" world. Through fiction Asturias painst the picture of reality - the cruelty and tragedy of the idigenous struggle to survive in post-colonial Latin America.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brochure for Guatemala 17 Dec 1999
By K. - Published on
Asturias writes like no one I have ever read before, but what irked me was the constant dependency on the back of the book for keys as to what anything meant. Much of it comes from the legends of the Mayan culture which I'm sure most people don't know concisely enough to know parts of the Mayan "bible." For the more patient reader, it is an amazing set of tales, but without the critical edition, I think one might become devoured by the profundity it entails, and comprehend only the title. From what I read however, I realized that we are dealing with an unorthodox writer, a shaman with words, and the predecessor of Marquez.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mirror of Guatemala 5 Nov 1996
By A Customer - Published on
Some people said: Asturias is a writer. I say Asturias is an artist who paints the reality of a magic land: Guatemala. You could feel it.
Sorry for my english, but I'm another "woman of maize". (Usually we dont speak english).
4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book is a excelent review of investigation about "Men of 17 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on
The book is a excelent review of investigation about "Men of maize". I'd apreciate if you could send me the address (email, phone, city etc.) of Gerald Martin. I want to contact him because I'like to send him a article about Asturias book. Sincerly yours Dr. Oscar Vinueza.
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