Never mind James Frey’s modest inventions. Uruguayan writer Galeano (Upside Down, 2000, etc.), with delightful daring, assumes that his story is universal, and that our stories are, too—and they need not even be strictly true.
Galeano’s book, a series of mostly impressionistic vignettes never more than a page long, starts with ponderings on blue-green algae and jumps at once to protohominid footprints along an East African lake. Gradually, historical figures appear, denizens of Iberia and elsewhere in Europe—but wait, for here comes the soccer hero Diego Maradona streaking across the sky, illuminating the ancient houses of Córdoba. Well, time is time, always malleable; and, as Galeano writes, “We are made of time. / We are its feet and its voice. / The feet of time walk in our shoes.” Time is a theme to which Galeano frequently adverts and reverts; historical figures such as Isaac Asimov (pondering why it rains at sea), Christopher Columbus and John Paul III are merely along for the ride. Throughout, Galeano makes cameos, as when he serves as a judge in a sixth-grade writing contest, glad to hear that one little girl loves her teacher because “he’d taught her not to be afraid of being wrong.” As for the real wrongdoers: Suffice it to say that George W. Bush would not be pleased to read these headlines, written as if channeled through Borges, Faulkner, García Márquez and Guevara. The news the author brings consists of anecdote and reminiscence, but more in little-known pieces of history and observation that instruct and admonish. Children suffer and have always suffered, the poor will not inherit the earth and the killers at Columbine “wanted to hijack a plane and crash it into the twin towers in New York.”
Readers unfamiliar with Galeano’s kaleidoscopic presentation may be baffled. Fans of his style will find this a gem.