A Uruguayan writer, Galeano has written--fastened may be the more accurate description--a large superstructure about the melancholy history of the Americas. This, the first volume of three, fitted out with carefully noted and indexed references, uses original sources and texts to chronicle the pre-Edenic existence of the pre-Columbian Indians, using a sampling of their innovative cosmology myths. But then, of course, arrive the satanic Spanish, and with them--still in the context of published sources, just made uniform by Galeano--the results of the Fall: the disease, the rapacity, the terror, the hypocrisy, the slavery, the cruelty, the permanent humiliation. The effect is naturally a strong one, massively depressing--which the author abets with relentless use of the present tense (like the old You Are There TV show) and the relative brevity (about three paragraphs, on average) of each terrible anecdote. Finally, it's numbing. And not especially original: US writers--e.g., Evan Connell, Paul Metcalf--have been doing this kind of thing for many years, over many books. But everything here is undubitable--and this historical factualness gives the book its authority, if not much of a range.