The young Miguel Angel Asturias began to be exposed to the stimulating enticements of cosmopolitan culture. Asturias’s secondary education at the Instituto Nacional Central de Varones, whose curriculum reflected the anti-clerical reformism of the nineteenth-century Mexican president Benito Juarez, countered his conservative religious faith with a French-influenced zeal for social progress. The mature Asturias was the most pungently Latin American of writers. The succession of earthquakes that levelled Leyendas de Guatemala City on 25 December 1917 appears to have shattered Asturias’s faith in the social order represented by his ladino privileges and the morality of the Catholic Church. Guatemala’s social misery would become his abiding obsession; the cultural wealth of its trampled indigenous peoples would grow into the core of his imaginative universe. The progressive social legislation promulgated in Mexico renewed his desire to see similar advances occur in Guatemala. Asturias applies the second part of the axiom in his critique of Guatemalan Indian populations as ‘degenerate’.