The Mirror of Lida Sal

Seven times the Moon-Chewers could take part in these poetic celebrations. As many as seven times, but no more, because if seven times night bared its silver-plated talon, if seven times the insane, spasmodic trees could parch themselves blinking away, not their leaves, but eyelashes of gold, as the firmament also parches itself by blinking, if seven times the night should shed its pepper-black hair, if seven times the crashing waves could churn, like millstones, over the swollen, puffy face of the sea, without these possessed, fanatical lunatics hearing their songs intoned, they would fall prey to the worst punishments -- ridicules and jeers: taken prisoner, vanquished in the poetic wars, they would be sacrificed, amidst grotesque dances, during which, from each victim's chest, would be extracted a lump of chocolate in the form of a heart.

Carefully extracted from "Legend of the Singing Tablets" in The Mirror of Lida Sal: Tales Based on Mayan Myths & Guatemalan Legends by Miguel Ángel Asturias. This book was translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert (Latin American Literary Review Press, 1997) and includes an introduction by Gerald Martin (Asturias scholar and translator of Men of Maize). Cover art by Maximino Javier.

Please read my interview with Alter-Gilbert.

In his intro, Martin notes that critical attention has rightly focused on Asturias' "most important works" -- The President and Men of Maize [out-of-print; last published in '95] -- but he feels the Nobel winner's many other books have been unjustly ignored. He writes:

That less attention has been given to each of the remaining works is understandable; that almost none has been given to them is absurd. Absurd that almost nothing has been written on his quite extensive poetic production, including the extraordinary fantomimas (phantomimes) [Ed.: Emulo Lipolidon (1935) and Alclasan (1940), can anyone explain this form?] ... ridiculous that a novel as linguistically and mythologically audacious as Mulata has hardly ever received the kind of searching analysis it deserves.

Equally striking, and here we come to our point, is the remarkable absence of critical attention devoted to Asturias's "legends." The first collection, ... Leyendas de Guatemala (Legends of Guatemala), appeared in 1930, and has never been translated into English [Ed.: this work contained an introduction by Paul Valéry]; the second, El espejo de Lida Sal, appeared in 1967, and has now, in this bedazzling translation by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert, become available to the English-speaking reader thirty years later.

From the back cover author bio (stop marveling at my research skills) we learn that Asturias settled in Paris in the twenties to study ethnology and Central American mythology at the Sorbonne. "It was during this era that he became a dedicated Surrealist under the tutelage of André Breton [and] translated the Popol Vuh and the Annals of Xahil."

See Victor Perera's piece on Asturias.

Detail of statue of Miguel Ángel Asturias (Avenida Reforma, Guatemala City), found here.