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||Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)|
Uruguayan essayist, journalist and historian. Galeano's best-known works include Memoria del fuego (1982-1986, Memory of Fire) and Las venas abiertas de América Latina (1971, The Open Veins of Latin America), which have been translated into some 20 languages. Galeano defies easy categorization as an author. His works transcend orthodox genres, and combine documentary, fiction, journalism, political analysis, and history. The author himself denied that he is a historian: "I'm a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia."
- The woman and the man dreamed that God was dreaming about them.
Eduardo Galeano was born in Montevideo, the son of Eduardo Hughes Roosen, a civil servant, and Licia Esther Galeano Muñozof, a bookstore manager. His family, of Catholic Welsh, German, Spanish and Italian heritage, were members of the traditional Catholic landowning and business community, but had falled on hard times. Galeano was educated in Uruguay until the age of 16. "I never learned in school," he once said. "I didn't like it."
In adolescence Galeano worked in odd jobs – he was a factory worker, a bill collector, a sign painter, a messenger, a typist, and a bank teller. At the age of 14 Galeano sold his first political cartoon to El Sol, the Socialist Party weekly. Some of his drawings illustrated the columns of Raúl Sendic, who later founded the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement (MLN-T). Galeano's pseudonym was Gius, the Spanish equivalent for his Welsh patronymic, Hughes. Later he began to use his mother's family name. Galeano's first article was published in 1954.
At the age of twenty Galeano started his career as a journalist, with little formal schooling. He was the editor-in-chief of Marcha, an influential weekly journal, which had such contributors as Mario Vargas Llosa, Mario Benedetti, Manuel Maldonado Denis and Roberto Fernández Retamar. For two years he edited the daily Épocha and worked as editor-in-chief of the University Press (1965-1973). As a result of the military coup of 1973, he was imprisoned and then forced to leave Uruguay. By that time he had published a novel, Los fantasmas del día del léon, y otros relatos (1967) and several books on politics and culture. In Argentina he founded and edited a cultural magazine, Crisis.
Las venas abiertas de América Latina (The Open Veins of
Latin America), written in just three months, made Galeano one of the
most widely read Latin American writers. It was the first book by the
author to be translated into English. Also a copy of the book ended in
the hands of President Obama when Venezueland President Hugo Chávez
gave it to him as a present. In the well-documented series of essays
the central theme was the exploitation of natural resources of Latin
America since the arrival of European powers at the end of the 15th
century. The Open Veins of Latin America was written "in the
style of a novel about love or about pirates", as the author himself
said. Decades later, on the 43rd anniversary of the books publication, Galeano
disavowed his work. "I wouldn’t be capable of reading this book again;
I’d keel over," he said. "For me, this prose of the traditional left is
extremely leaden, and my physique can’t tolerate it." Open Veins has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
In 1975 Galeano received the prestigious Casa de las Américas
prize for his novel La cancion de nosotros.
After the military coup of 1976 in Argentina, his name was added
to the lists of those condemned by the death squads and he moved to
Spain. "I lost quite a few things in Buenos Aires," he recalled in Días y noches de amor y de guerra (Days and Nights of Love and War). "Due to the rush or to bad luck, no one knows where they ended up. I left with a few clothes and a handful of papers." This largely autobiographical
work earned him again
Casa de las Américas prize.
Galeano lived mainly on the Catalan coast, where he made a living as a writer and journalist, and started to work on his masterpiece, Memory of Fire. At the beginning of 1985, Galeano returned to Montevideo, where he re-established Marcha under a new name, Brecha. During his exile, Galeano began to write Memoria del fuego, a story of America, North and South, in which the characters are real historical figures, generals, artists, revolutionaries, workers, conquerors and the conquered. Galeano started with pre-Columbian creation myths and ended in the 1980s.
The trilogy consists of short chapters, episodes which portray the colonial history of the continent. "Each fragment of this huge mosaic is based on a solid documentary foundation. What is told here has happened, although I tell it in my style & manner," Galeano wrote about his work. He also often used non-literary sources, songs, letters, newspaper advertisements, oral tradition. Fragmentary Memoria del fuego turns its back on pseudo-objective history – it is subjective, the prose is poetic and the author's own vision comes clearly through the elaborate web of historical scenes and facts. Among the central characters of the last part, Century of the Wind, is Miguel Marmol, a revolutionary labor organizer, who survives tortures and escapes execution. Galeano also utilized the technique of short narratives in Espejos: Una historia casi universal (2008, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone), which portrays the human history from prehistory to the present.
Memoria del fuego was widely praised by reviewers. The structure of the book was considered as fascinating as the history it related, and Galeano was compared to John Dos Passos and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ronald Wright wrote in the Times Literary Supplement: "Great writers... dissolve old genres and found new ones. This trilogy by one of South America's most daring and accomplished authors is impossible to classify."
"Reality speaks a language of symbols. Each part is a metaphor of the whole."
In his childhood Galeano had dreamed of becoming a soccer
player, as do many Latin American young boys. In Soccer in Sun and
(1995) the author covers the history of soccer and gives highlights of
the best games and goals throughout history. Galeano compares soccer
with a theater performance and with war; he criticizes its unholy
alliance with global corporations but attacks leftist intellectuals who
reject the game and its attraction to the broad masses because of
ideological reasons. Galeano's other major work includes We Say No
(1989), a collection of essays, autobiographical El libro de los
abrazos (1989, The Book of Embraces), and Las palabras andantes
(1993, Walking Words). It combines urban and rural oral tradition and
insights into Latin-American reality with illustrations typical of the
popular literatura de cordel.
In An Uncertain Grace (1990) Galeano wrote: "From
the standpoint of the great communications media that uncommunicate
humanity, the Third World is peopled by third-class inhabitants
distinguishable from animals only by their ability to walk on two legs.
Theirs are problems of nature not of history: hunger, pestilence,
violence are in the natural order of things." Galeano was married three times – in 1959 to Silvia Brando, in 1962 to
Graciela Berro and in 1976 to Helena Villagra; Days and Nights of Love and War was dedicated to her.
During his career as a writer Galeano survived a suicide attempt, malaria, a heart attack, imprisonment, exile, dictatorship, and political persecution. Following the creation of the Caracas-based TeleSur (La Nueva Televisora del Sur), a new Latin American TV channel, Galeano was appointed a member of its advisory board. His several awards included Premio Casa de las Américas (1975, 1978) and the American Book Award (1989). In 1999 he received the first Cultural Freedom Award from the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe. The award was given for Galeano's outspoken critique of systemic injustice and his body of work dedicated to improving the human freedom generally. In spite of his literary accomplishments, Galeano's works have not been translated into English as much as the fiction of his countryman Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994). Los hijos de los días (2012, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History), translated by Mark Fried, collected stories, fragments, historical facts, and other pieces for each day of the year. "For all of Galeano’s appreciation of history’s absurdities," said Greg Grandin in his review, "he has chosen a format that leads to an ahistoric, almost medieval experience of time, a liturgical calendar in which the days don’t move forward into the future but rather pile up into an eternal present." (The New York Times, July 26, 2013) Galeano died of cancer in Montevideo on April 13, 2015.
For further reading: Galeano: apuntes para una biografía by Fabián Kovacic (2016); Eduardo Galeano: Through the Looking Glass by Daniel Fischlin and Martha Nandorfy (2001); Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature, ed. by Verity Smith (1997); World Authors 1985-1990, ed. by Vineta Colby (1995); Silencio, voz y escritura en Eduardo Galeano by Diana Palaversich (1995); El vendedor de reliquias by Mauricio Rosencof (1992); 'Hope Springs Eternal' by Gerald Martin, in History Journal Workshop 34 (1992); Spanish American Authors, ed. by A Flores (1991); Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century, ed. by M. Tucker (1991); Latin America: the Writer's Journey by Greg Price (1990) - Special thanks to Rasunah Marsden who gave the idea for this page, helped with its material, and selected quotations from Memory of Fire: Genesis.