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Book Review Last words from a continental explorer

MICHAL BONCZA recommends the final collection of works by the great Eduardo Galeano

Hunter of Stories
by Eduardo Galeano
(Constable £14.99)

IN LATIN America, time is measured before and after Eduardo Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.

A literary Pandora’s Box if ever there was one, it's a book that transformed the continent’s self-awareness by tearing down the veil of falsity drawn over its true history by bourgeois apologists.

Published in 1971, it was soon banned by all the dictatorships of the region except in the author’s native Uruguay where the military thought, for a while, that it was a medical manual.

Galeano's exposé of the continent being bled — in both senses of the word — by the Spaniards first and, later, the comprador bourgeoisie is as devastating today as when it was first published.

It's a must-read, as is Hunter of Stories, completed shortly before his death from cancer in 2015.

As the accompanying extracts demonstrate, they're delivered in Galeano's trademark style of compact vignettes that combine dialogue, fable and anecdote. They continue his revelatory musings on the continent’s neglected collective memory — and its soul —  narrated with an ever-present sense of humour, tragedy and loss.

Not since Guy de Maupassant has the short literary form been imbued with such grace, elegance and poignancy. Rarely longer than half a page, these quintessential and often poetic pearls astonish, inspire reflection and entertain.

Among the nuggets to be mined in the exquisite translations by Mark Fried is the fact that in 16th-century Mexico Spanish priests believed chocolate caused flatulence, melancholy and abetted sin, while in Brazil in 1967 Lea Campos became the first woman ever to referee a football match.

We learn too that in Montevideo all streets are named after appalling individuals except the one Galeano lived on, named after musician Dalmiro Costa, and that the intelligence section of Buenos Aires provincial police during the period of the “disappeared” in the 1970s listed Clara Anahi Mariani as an “extremist.”

She was three-months-old when her parents were assassinated and she’s never been seen again.

And he relates how a friend hands him an edition of the Open Veins with a bullet hole in its middle. He got it from a Salvadorean army officer who, in turn, found it on a dead teenage guerilla — the bullet had gone through his heart — and the book was the only thing in his rucksack.

Galeano confesses to writing in the “hope of making us all stronger than our fear of failure or of punishment, when choosing between indignation and indignity.”

That's exactly what his book does.

The Poet

SHE was called Phillis because that was the name of the ship she came on, and Wheatley because it was the name of the merchant who bought her.

She was born in Senegal in 1753.

In Boston, slave traders put her up for sale: “Seven years old! She’ll make a great brood mare!” Naked, she was poked and prodded by many hands.

At the age of thirteen, she was already writing poems in a language not her own. No one believed she was the author.

At the age of twenty, Phillis was interrogated by a tribunal of eighteen illustrious gentlemen in frocks and powdered wigs. She had to recite texts by Virgil and Milton, plus several passages from the Bible, and she had to prove that her own poems were original.

Seated in a chair, she endured her long examination. Finally, the tribunal relented: she was a woman, she was black, and she was a poet.

Rain

AMONG all the world’s music and all heaven’s too, my favourite is the concerto for solo rain.

Every time it plays on the skylight of my house, I listen as if I were at Mass.

'Rot is the source of life'

MY BOOK Days and Nights of Love and War opens with a quote from Karl Marx: “In history, as in nature, rot is the source of life.”

When the book was translated into German, the translator, who knew Marx’s work from A to Z, asked me where I found that sentence, because he did not recall it and could not locate it in any book.

I searched as well, but in vain. Still, I was certain my memory had not betrayed me on that perfect synthesis of dialectical thinking.

So, I told the translator: “The sentence is from Marx, but he forgot to write it down.”

Reprinted by kind permission of Constable publishers.

 

 

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