Memory of Fire III by Eduardo Galeano

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There's history, and then there's history. Winston Churchill wrote, "History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it." If Churchill wrote about Latin America, his book might have looked like Century of the Wind, by Eduardo Galeano. In my opinion, everyone should read it, and they should also check out the excellent study guide available on this website. They should keep in mind, though, that not everything written down is the whole (or even partial) truth.

This third installment in Galeano's Memory of Fire series is as committed as the others, meaning that, while it's an excellent history, it also has a purpose. The purpose is to present the history of Latin America, "warts and all," in the most favorable possible light. One consequence of this is that the 'warts' are almost all on the gringos. There's no ducking the awfulness of Central and South American bad government, corruption, violence, and misery. The author does a good job of addressing these subjects. But not everything bad about twentieth-century Latin America originated in the United States or the international organizations the United States dominates, contrary to how the author writes. An unintended, I think, side effect of this writing is that it denies agency to the people of the Latin American countries. The CIA didn't arrive with Salvador Allende in a box, like some cargo cult, to wreak havoc on Chile. Neither did Theodore Roosevelt dig the Panama Canal without local money and muscle. Galeano doesn't claim either point literally, in the book, but that seems to be his sentiment. Throughout the period covered in the book, millions of people in Latin America, inside and outside government and business, benefited from and helped create the world that Galeano wants us to dislike. Everyone should read the book to judge for themselves whether this analysis is tractable.

Contents aside, one other thing about the book contributes to the sense of imbalance when you read it. The layout is designed for "quick hits"—what today we call "sound bites." There's a page (sometimes two pages) about most topics, and that's it. This is understandable if you accept that the author wanted to include as many important events as possible in the narrative. However, that adds to the sense that you're supposed to simply accept the author's page of analysis and not ask too many questions. That's a shame, because the history of Latin America is rich. This book is rich, too, but you should read it alongside a more conventional history to get a proper understanding of the topic.

Memory of Fire III

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Distinguished Uruguayan historian and writer Eduardo Galeano’s Century of the Wind (volume 3 of Memory of Fire) is an ambitious undertaking meant to teach his fellow residents of the Western Hemisphere about their own history as well as to educate readers outside the hemisphere regarding the turbulent, often-chaotic events that formed twentieth century Latin America. Century of the Wind is the third volume of a trilogy whose other volumes are Génesis (1982; English translation, 1985) and Las caras y las máscaras (1984; Faces and Masks, 1987).

What sets these works apart from other histories dealing with events of the Western Hemisphere is the novel and unorthodox way Galeano creates history. Rather than relying upon the linear, narrative approach so often used in histories, Galeano uses a series of arrestingly original vignettes about places, people, and events; taken together, these vignettes constitute a pattern of violence, revolution, deceit, intrigue, and death. Like a composer, Galeano introduces powerful themes which are strongly sounded, then are allowed to fade, only to reappear again with greater insistence. The greatest of all of his themes is that of the inevitability of revolution in the Americas, despite the best efforts of military dictatorships and American capitalists to thwart it.

Century of the Wind is mainly concerned with Latin America, though culturally significant North Americans, representing the...

(The entire section is 2,556 words.)