David Unger, director of The City College of New York’s Publishing Certificate Program and an award-winning author, saw his latest novel, “The Mastermind” translated into several major languages including Spanish, Arabic and Italian. Now Unger is tasked with re-translating “El Señor Presidente,” the most celebrated novel by Guatemalan Nobel laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias. The project is supported by a New York State Council on the Arts grant awarded to Unger and marks the 50th anniversary of Asturias’ Nobel Prize for Literature.
Published in 1943, “El Señor Presidente” (The President) is regarded by critics as the seminal work of a key Spanish-American literary genre, the dictator novel. Banned for years in Guatemala, it was inspired by Manuel Estrada Cabrera, that country’s president in the early 20th century. Asturias employed a wealth of literary devices to explore the devastating effects of the exercise of power on society when imposed through fear and torture.
Asturias’ other notable books include “Hombres de maíz” (Men of Maize) — a defense of Mayan culture and customs – and “Maladrón,” which was set during the 16th century Spanish conquest and addresses the subject of racial mixing.
Unger is a pre-eminent translator of Spanish-language books with 14 previous titles to his credit. They include “The Popol Vuh,” Guatemala’s pre-Columbian creation myth; and works by Rigoberta Menchú, Silvia Molina, Nicanor Parra, Teresa Cárdenas and Mario Benedetti among others.
In addition to “The Mastermind,” his own books include “The Price of Escape,” “Para Mi, Eres Divina,” “Ni chicha, ni limonada,” and “Life in the Damn Tropics.”
He received Guatemala’s 2014 Miguel Angel Asturias National Literature Prize for lifetime achievement.
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