"Each day of life is an unrepeatable chord of a music that laughs at death." --Eduardo Galeano, Century of the Wind (Memory of Fire, volume three).
Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy ( a history of the Western hemisphere with a corrective emphasis on its southern half, comprising Genesis, Faces and Masks and Century of the Wind) is very good, at moments sublime, and extremely important, showing us a new way to write and understand history: in vivid fragments, vignettes, poetic images. The act of authorial selection is foregrounded by the form, so there’s no traditional historical legerdemain suggesting that this is the history of the Western hemisphere and no others need apply. It’s a beautiful, nuanced book that shows us just how poetically powerful history writing can be. Galeano takes history out of the hands of the professoriat and makes it sing. He’s a bluesman, and his composition, in three long movements, is a vast blues for the Western hemisphere. On first reading, the work seems sui generis, like what might have happened if Borges and Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a history book–an impossible possibility, given their strongly opposed political views.
The third volume, Century of the Wind, covering the 20th century, is the most impressive of the trilogy. Its vignettes range from beauty to horror, from the exhilaration of successful revolution to the unspeakable sadism of the torture chambers, from summary executions and casual slaughters to a little town in South America called Yoro where, from time to time, it rains fish. "[In] America," Galeano writes (and by ‘America’ he always means the entire hemisphere), "surrealism is as natural as rain or madness." He has written an appropriately surreal, sublimely beautiful and terribly true book that is as artful as it is educative. I wish there was more history like this.