By Eduardo Galeano. Translated by Mark Fried. Nation Books, 400 pp, $33.95, hardcover
It’s hard to think of another living author who would have the nerve to consider writing a book like Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone. But for Uruguay’s Eduardo Galeano, this collection of vignettes, covering the breadth of human history, was a natural fit.
Galeano, as a young man, authored the groundbreaking 1971 opus Open Veins of Latin America—an indictment of the plunder of the region by European and U.S. imperialists that recently shot up the Amazon.com charts, after Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez made a gift of it to Barack Obama.
Galeano’s unique style has changed subtly over a long career, but the politics reflected in Mirrors are as radical as ever. The years have added wisdom and not, thankfully, cynicism. Although he laments that the 21st century “is following in its [bloody] predecessor’s footsteps”, Galeano finds hope in recent rebellions, such as the 2003 uprising in Bolivia against privatization, when “a tsunami of people washed away the government”.
As in his celebrated Memory of Fire trilogy, Galeano unfolds these short musings and reflections chronologically, highlighting what stale Eurocentric writers and scholars have omitted in the history of our species.
Mirrors reminds us that “the human adventure in the world began in Africa” and emphasizes the contributions of the so-called Third World.
Galeano has said he writes to defeat social “amnesia”, and thus he denounces what mainstream scholarship has too often ignored and what he views as western elites’ selective sense of justice. As he remarks, for instance: “Practically nothing is said about the West Bank Wall, which perpetuates the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and will be fifteen times longer than the Berlin Wall.”
The nuances were not lost in translation from the Spanish original, thanks to the work of Canadian Mark Fried, who recently wrote a piece in the literary journal Brick describing the back-and-forth with Galeano that was required to find le mot juste.
Galeano, once again, has succeeded in finding just the right words both to celebrate humanity’s diversity and to denounce all manner of prejudice and inequality.