Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone

Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, just published by Nation Books, is another unclassifiable brilliant work, which employs the vignette style of literary telling used in the Memory of Fire trilogy, a masterpiece in its own right about the Americas and applies it to the broader history of humankind. The trilogy mixed origin fables with historical anecdotes and terse psychological portraits of major events and persons in the history of Latin America to give back to all,including the vanquished and forgotten the memory of resistance and to open the path to a more enlightened and just future. In Mirrors,this approach is used with great success in a one volume tract.Quite a remarkable piece of storytelling it is!

Galeano, whose editorial work includes Epoca and the famous Argentine-based magazine Crisis, as well as being director of the University of Montivideo Press, fled his native Uruguay and Argentina during the repressive 1970's and lived for many years in Spain, where he wrote the Memory of Fire trilogy,before returning to Latin America as Pinochet was being rejected by Chileans and ultimately to Montivideo in 1985. He has been both a writer, publisher and activist. In the late 1960's he covered the uprising and guerilla war in Guatamala, and earlier during the same period was privileged to have interviewed Che Guevara, a piece thereon which appeared in his collection of astringent and powerful essays published in the 1990's entitled We Say No.

He was also present and spoke publicly in Mexico at the beginning of the Zapatista movement.

His credentials are unparallelled both as a freedom fighter and as a scribe.

Galeano has taken it upon himself to hold up the image of the shattered or buried mirror, which becomes an instrument of sound and vision to bring together persons in a "network of voices "that speak and struggle to resist injustice and inequity.

To quote from the Zapatists Encuentro-"A pocket mirror of voices,...the world in which sounds may be listened to separately,[recognizing their specicificity and brought together] into one great sound."

Long treasured as a writer and spokesperson for those who seek a more progressive society,Galeano rocketed into the mass media recently when, at a Presidential leadership conference in Trinidad, Hugo Chavez publicly gave to Barack Obama a copy of his Open Veins of Latin America, Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. This early text, written in a more traditional discursive style in a three month whirlwind and published originally by Monthly Review Press more than 35 years ago, jumped from the number 54000 position to the No. 2 bestselling book on as a result.

That title was however followed by Days and Nights of Love and War, the first English-language translation to reflect Galeano's vignette style of prose poetry.

Galeano's is one of the most penetrating ,truthful and pure voices we are privileged to hear- From Days and Nights, above, here is a simple incident which occurred in Buenos Aires 1975--After describing the fate of some of those who met their deaths at the hands of the Argentine repression:

I met Ana[B.] She was[one of the lucky ones]. They blindfolded her and yanked her out of the house in Buenos Aires. She doesn't know where they went.They tied up her hands and legs. A nylon cord was placed around her neck. They hit and kicked her while they asked about an article she had published:

"This is a Holy War. We have tried and condemned you.Now you will be shot."

At daybreak they made her get out of the car and pushed her against a tree. Her face was against the tree but she felt several men get in line and kneel.She heard the click of their guns. A drop of sweat rolled down he rneck. Then came the explosion. Afterward Ana discovered she was alive. She touched herself and was intact. She heard the sound of cars driving off.

She managed to untie herself and pull off the blindfold. It was raining and the sky was very dark. Dogs were barking someplace.She was surrounded by tall tress.

"A morning made to die in," she thought.

"Mirrors" applies this protocol to the entire history of our planet. It's the kind of book one can read a page at a time or swallow up in 50 page doses-filled with all-encompassing brilliant gems. There is an apologia from Galeano that unlike Memory of Fire, there are no bibliographic sources , for the pagination thereof would itself exceed that of the main text.

One of my favorite anecdotes is about a photograph of Munich's Odeonplatz in August 1914 as the assembled crowd cheers the declaration of war by imperial Germany. Lost somewhere at the edges in this famous photo by Heinrich Hoffmann is a young dissolute painter whose eyes in a "state of bliss" turn toward heaven, mouth agape, hat in hand. Little did Hoffmann (who became a photographer years later of the German High Command) know then that he had captured on film "the Messiah, the avenger" of Germany's subsequent defeat and the chaos that followed, the "redeemer" of the race.. Herr Hitler, caught in the ecstasy of his madness.

Galeano has not lost his touch. Each book he puts out is different from the one that precedes it and seems better than the last. You finish "Mirrors" with a sense of astonishment and inspiration that washes over one like a cold mountain stream. He is one of the greatest chroniclers of our history and the greatest of the despised, oppressed and cast out peoples of this planet. Galeano's writings are an indispensable antidote to traditional history, which as has been said is a trick the victors play on the vanquished.


Mirrors is another milestone in the brilliant career of Eduardo Galeano. As unforgettable in its own way as Leaves of Grass.

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