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El Presidente, by Miguel Angel Asturias

May 5th, 2008

is like Tale of Two Cities as written by an acid-tripping Hemingway. Or maybe a severely opiated Nabokov? A stone cold sober Tom Robbins born in 1920?

No, no. None of those is right. I’m terrible at these. Where’s Justin when you need him?

On hearing this unbelievable news, Fedina wept with the facility and abundance with which women of the people weep over the troubles of others. Her tears fell on her child’s little head as she lulled him—as warm as the water grandmothers take to church to add to the cold holy water in baptismal fonts. The baby fell asleep. The night passed, and they were still sitting as if under a spell when dawn drew a gold line under the door and the silence of the shop was broken by the baker’s girl tapping at the door.

“Bread! Bread! Bread!”

It’s a surreal, exhaustive depiction of the relationships between the most bottom-scraping urban detritus and everybody else at every level of society in the capitol of a petty third-world dictatorship. There’s some satire, a bit of fatalism, a surprisingly well-veiled socialist agenda, and a ton of great, very real characterization painted with astonishing economy. And every once in awhile the streets rise up into anthropomorphized whirlwinds and woosh around the city wreaking havoc and crying like lost children.

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