Memory of Fire III by Eduardo Galeano

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Eduardo Galeano calls the Memory of Fire trilogy a creative work of literature that may belong to “narrative, essay, epic poem, chronicle, testimony…,” or perhaps to none of these. In Volume III, Century of the Wind, he utilizes a wide variety of “solid documentation” as the basis for the entries that comprise this unique literary form. Each of the several hundred entries includes numbered references to the 475 original sources listed at the end.

Because this is a work of literature, the dozens of individuals about whom he writes and from whose published work he sometimes quotes are considered characters. Galeano’s perspective to some extent emphasizes Latin America’s ordinary people, such as the landless peasants who became revolutionary forces in Mexico. While he draws attention to their often unsung role in affecting history and current events, many of them go unnamed as their names were not recorded in the journalistic accounts on which he drew. Other people who become his characters are prominent individuals in a wide range of fields, not only politics and government but the arts and sciences.

Among the unnamed individuals who took collective action, for example, are the workers who went on strike in Ecuador in 1923: “The women—washerwomen, tobacco workers, cooks, peddlers…—were the most defiant.” Many were killed and thrown into the Guayas River.

Similarly, for 1958 and 1959, the countless under-equipped members of Castro’s revolutionary forces are called “an unstoppable centipede,” and after they take over Havana, the U.S. ambassador is imagined seeing them as “rabble" composed of "dirty, hairy, barefoot guerrillas….”

In contrast, Galeano depicts numerous U.S. popular culture figures, including Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Paul Robeson, and Orson Welles. James Baldwin is shown having an epiphany while walking down Manhattan streets, seeing the whole “astounding world” with “the shipwrecked, the madmen, the magicians” glowing in a puddle in the street. Latin American giants of art, literature, and music include Rubén Darío, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Tina Modotti, and Heitor Villa-Lobos. Author Alejo Carpentier, developing magical realism in Cuba and Haiti, shows that "in America, surrealism is as natural as rain or madness.”

In sum, the reader will find among the famous and the ordinary, numerous engaging characters who emerge from historical fact imbued with Galeano’s tremendous creativity.