An author very close to my heart passed away recently. I discovered Eduardo Galeano not very long ago: his was one of those names always flying around, one of those “must read at some point” authors. I finally took the plunge with the Open Veins of Latin America, a book by no means easy, where he beautifully narrates the story of Central and South America from its painful conquest by the Europeans in the late 15th c., to its most recent and current phase of colonialism. Having read it on the back of reading many primary accounts of the conquest of Central and South America (Bernal Diaz, Hernan Cortes and even Cabeza de Vaca), it was refreshing to read a modern historian-deliciously anachronistic at that-convey his moral objections to Spanish greed and expansionism of the 1500s. I found it a powerful polemic against corporate greed, imperialism fuelled by the need for profit which has made the white/European master over the destiny of the native and slave for centuries. It also brings home the message that globalisation is nothing new.
I then slipped into the Memory of Fire trilogy. Here Galeano makes no excuses and has no apologies to offer. He nails his colours to the mast, calling this a thoroughly biased account which reflects his political beliefs. This is a (hi)story of the same continent, but here the master takes his time. Through beautiful tit-bits, carefully and lovingly crafted vignettes which start with the mythology of the creation of the world to the present day, weaving reality, magic, passion and interpretation of historical facts and processes together. War, destruction, enslavement, exploitation. It gives a historian a right kick in the teeth: we are never impartial, we always have an angle. And Galeano certainly has his.
Finally, Galeano has gifted the world the most beautiful book ever written about the beautiful game in Football in Sun and Shadow. His typically unapologetic love of the game comes through in passion-filled pages full of vignettes from the 1930s and days of the great Uruguay-world champions in Brazil’s own home in 1950-to the days of Pele and Maradona and beyond. A must read.
Galeano hated bureacrats. Something he wrote in Vol. 3 of Memory of Fire will always stay with me: “It is highly improbable that the bureaucrat will put his life on the line. It is absolutely impossible that he’ll put his job on the line.” These people, devoid of passion, creativity, originality or any kind of bravery, but full of cold calculation, rule our world.
So, farewell dear friend, master, brother. Your own Memory of Fire lives on.