Uruguayan author/journalist Eduardo Galeano is one of my all time favorite writers and each year, I eagerly await whatever he has on tap. I first discovered Galeano while browsing in Revolution Books, the sprawling communist bookstore off 5th Avenue. (It’s since moved from its original location and it’s new digs are much smaller. Even communists are subject to rising New York City rents). The great thing about this store is the treasure of lesser known, mostly non-fiction, politically oriented books. They also carry a decent amount of world fiction and it was in the Latin American section where I first stumbled upon Eduardo Galeano. That book was “We Say No”, a collection of essays he’d written for various newspapers over the years. Then came “Open Veins of Latin America”, his most well known, but it were his other books, those that tackled the history of Latin America (primarily) and the rest of the world, written in an almost literary way that really caught my attention. Books such as “Upside Down World”, the “Memory of Fire”trilogy, “The Book of Embraces”, “Soccer in Shadow and Sun”, among many others that caused me to look at the world in a very different manner that I had before reading them. Galeano writes about people - those forgotten to history, those born on the “wrong” side of the economic divide, those who sacrificed everything - even their lives - to try to bring a little beauty into this world. His poetic, powerful vignettes aim for the heart and soul and hit a bulls-eye nearly every time. Never had so little words have said so much.
This tradition continues with Galeano’s latest offering “Children of the Days.” Taking its cue from medieval “Book of Days”, Galeano takes each day of the calendar year and writes about events - some well known, others completely lost to history - that more or less coincide with that day of the calendar year. There’s the account of the Brazilian “Smooch-in”, when the military government banned kissing in public; there’s the story of the Persian vizier who kept books safe from war by mounting a traveling library - a camel caravan with more than 117,000 books; there are myths and legends from indigenous peoples of Latin America, Africa and Asia; there is the account of the very first same-sex marriage, conducted in Spain in 1901 by two rebellious women; how the powerful stop at nothing to have their way and those brave souls who stood up to fight them - most of whom the world has forgotten; and of course there are current events, seen through the eyes of “the other”, which gives any thinking person a new way of looking at these events. Those familiar with Galeano’s work will not find anything new as far as style but the substance, what he chooses to explore, only adds to the wealth of knowledge he has already given the world.
It’s poignant that Galeano often chooses to write about those people who lived on this earth since time immemorial who did what they could to beautify what is often a very harsh existence - because that is exactly what Galeano does with his books and his writing. And perhaps one day, someone will write a little vignette about him that will be just as powerful and as meaningful as those he has written over the course of his life about those history would have otherwise forgotten.
If you want a chance to see the world in a very different way, read this book.