The Book of Embraces

Eduardo Galeano is best known for his MEMORY OF FIRE trilogy, a challenging mix of fiction and history. In this latest work, THE BOOK OF EMBRACES (translated by Cedric Belfrage), Galeano again works in different genres, weaving autobiography, fiction, dream, political commentary, and even his own drawings into a fascinating, at times frightening, collage.

Galeano, who lived in exile from his native Uruguay from 1973 to 1984, writes chillingly of the life led by the artist-in-exile, of what it means to imagine and to create within an atmosphere of political oppression. Indeed, within the specific culture of Latin America—what Galeano calls “the culture of terror”—politics is inextricably linked with art. It is all part of the magical reality of America, and that magical reality is what Galeano looks to explore and to help us understand.

Working within such a system, argues Galeano, the artist discovers the supreme importance of certain elements: of speech that speaks the truth, or what Colombian fishermen call “semipensante"; of the necessary, though silenced, reader; of imagination, which liberates the mind and the soul from the imprisoned flesh.

Ultimately, Galeano uses this book to “embrace” all of those who work—or who have worked and died—within this culture. These are his companeros and companeras: his friends, his friends-in-exile, his lovers. These are the poets and artists who have expressed the infinitude of love even while suffering the indignities and obscenities of political tyranny. And Galeano, of course, sees his own responsibility as being to that same humane vision, so that THE BOOK OF EMBRACES finally becomes a celebration of the human spirit, a pulling together of the fragments of Galeano’s experience, and a testament to the inherent dignity of the rightly led life.