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Miguel Ángel Asturias: Mulata de tal (UK: The Mulatta and Mr. Fly; US: Mulata)

Asturias’ last novel saw something of a return to his roots, as it is essentially a series of tales, with a unifying theme set around a traditional legend. The basic plot is simple. We start off with Celestino Yumí walking around the village with his flies open. We soon learn that he is doing this at the behest of Tazol, i.e. the devil. Celestino has made a deal with the devil. Seeing him walking around with his flies open will be a mortal sin for the women. More particularly, Tazol has tricked Celestino into thinking that his wife, Catalina, is cheating on him and Celestino agrees to give her up to Tazol, in return for riches. He meets the beautiful mulatta of the title and marries her almost immediately. Much of the novel involves Celestino’s adventures, which includes various changes he undergoes but also the problems he encounters with the mulatta woman. In the end, of course, he goes back to Catalina, who helps him get rid of the mulatta.

Though considered a fine novel, it is not necessarily an easy read. Asturias uses a stylised Spanish and throws in foreign words, including words from the local Indian languages. Moreover, the plot jumps all over the place and it is not always easy to follow. But if you enjoy a good legend made into novel, the book is lively and well told.

Publishing history

First published 1963 by Losada, Buenos Aires
First English translation 1963 by Peter Owen
Translated by Gregory Rabassa