My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy when I was in my late teens. I wore it with pride, as it seemed to represent a lot of what I wanted to be. As a young lefty, that someone had rewritten the history of the world from the view of the oppressed, had uncovered alternative narratives, and infused them with a passion for social justice, was a lovely gift. And politics aside, the amazing myth-telling from the first of trilogy, with the origins of the earth and peoples and languages, was poetic and magnificent.
Years later, I stumble upon ‘Mirrors’ in a used bookstore, and buy it, mostly through sentimentality! In a strange way, it seems a retelling of the original trilogy: it begins with origins of the world and ends somewhere in our modern day. Twenty-five years later and he is writing in a similar style about similar injustices. Because of this, I didn’t feel particularly engaged by the book, I’d dip in and out of it, enjoy the vignettes and poetry of it, but somehow in the last third, I was captured into the way he had grouped the vignettes into loose themes, how he would dance across continents before moving into another exploration.
It really is a depressing telling though, this history of the world. I think it’s encapsulated for me in his vignette entitled ‘Only Human’ that occurs just after the halfway point of the book. ‘We puny humans:’ he begins, and then lists some of our traits, ‘exterminators of everything…ones who poison the water they drink… the only ones who kill for fun… who rape’. And then his list of positive characteristics is about half as long as those that were negative: ‘also/the only ones who laugh…daydream…find beauty in rubbish’.
And I’d think that this is what a reader will end up with in general: one-third inspired by his beautiful writing and impressed with his passion for uncovering the voices and histories of the oppressed; two-thirds depressed by the terrible machinations of the world.