Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog on July 27, 2008.


I’ve picked up Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy again. I’m on the last installment, Century of the Wind.

It has always surprised me that not many readers are familiar with Eduardo Galeano. If there’s any writer I discovered after university who has a profound impact on my writing, it would be he. Galeano’s what my friend Marc might call “a ’90s sort of writing.” Others might dismiss as postcolonial twaddle. For me, that’s just fine. His preoccupation with history, the dark side of revolutions and colonization may be profoundly relevant and thought-provoking, even agitating, but it’s his words that are just so seductive. Besides, his style is well fitted to this blogging generation that demands stories to be pithy, well-written—and all under 200 words.

Memory of Fire is amazing. All three volumes consist of vignettes on the history of the Americas—not just South America, but also Central and North America. He starts with pre-colonial myths in the first volume (Genesis) and continues with the arrival of the Europeans. The second volume (Faces and Masks) is painful and heart-wrenching as it details the various anti-colonial uprisings and struggles throughout the centuries.

Each vignette is put into proper context: dates, cities, and footnotes are provided. Each volume has around 400 historical and literary sources—practically a crazy thing to do for fiction, but that goes to show how well-researched and ambitious this work is. In Galeano’s eyes, the Americas collapse and become one: the struggle of all natives—from disparate groups such as the Inuits and the Nahua—become a single struggle against a common enemy who wears different faces.

I don’t recognize all the historical figures that peppered the first and second volume, so the third volume is a downright pleasure as more names become familiar. Galeano talks of Mexican novelists Manuel Azuela (The Underdogs) and Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo), the childhood of Louie Armstrong, the Zapatistas and the Sandinistas.

I particularly liked what he said about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges; I’ll post them separately to highlight their differences.

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