From the noted Uruguayan author, a broad, global, sometimes glancing look at all the ways humans do wrong.
Galeano (Voices of Time, 2006, etc.) practically holds a patent on the telling of history via feuilletonistic vignettes, most running just a few hundred words. In this latest variation on the theme he established a quarter-century ago with his Memory of Fire trilogy, Galeano relates some 600 tales, ranging from the protohominid origins of humankind to the sad realization that the 21st century is likely to be no different than its predecessor, “born proclaiming peace and justice, died bathed in blood.” In between is a whirlwind of emperors, pharaohs, soldiers, explorers, saints and sinners. Galeano also develops a few anticapitalist, universalist themes that are sometimes much too obvious—racism is bad; why is Balboa credited as the first man to see two oceans at once when surely some Panamanian Indian beat him to it; etc.—but most of which bear airing nonetheless. In the latter regard, he hits his stride with a sequence of tales on the various ways in which the Devil has been depicted over time: as Muslim (“a great army of demons that grew larger with every blow of the lance, sword, and harquebus”), Jewish, black, female, poor, foreign, gay, Gypsy and/or Indian. Galeano’s miniature essays are a hit-or-miss affair. When they hit, they make neat historical connections. When they miss, they sound familiar and tired, as when he writes, “In our days, George W. Bush, perhaps believing that writing was invented in Texas, launched with joyful impunity a war to exterminate Iraq.”
Galeano’s admirers will be content with this more-of-the-same approach to universal history; newbies may find it gimmicky. Either way, this new installment is worth a look.