Eduardo Galeano’s best-known works are “Las venas abiertas de América Latina” [The Open Veins of Latin America] (1971) and “Memoria del fuego” [Memory of Fire] (1982-1986). Neither are necessarily works of fiction and only a few references are made to forests. Nonetheless, he is a giant amongst Latin American writers and political commentators.
As the author himself recognises it is hard to classify his work. He writes in The Open Veins of Latin America: “I know that I can be accused of sacrilege in writing about political economy in the style of a novel about loves or pirates. But I confess I get a pain reading valuable works by certain sociologists, political experts, economists, and historians who write in code”. Likewise: “Memory of Fire is not an anthology…I don’t know if it is a novel or essay or epic poem or testament or chronicle or…Deciding robs me of no sleep. I do not believe in the frontiers that, according to literature’s custom officers, separate the forms.”
His message is, however, unambiguous: “… underdevelopment in Latin America is a consequence of development elsewhere, that we in Latin America are poor because the ground we tread is rich, and that places privileged by nature have been cursed by history”. His essays show how the continent’s natural resources, including its forests, have been exploited since the 15th century – five centuries of pillage.
In Genesis, the first part of the Memory of Fire trilogy, he retells indigenous creation myths.
“In a dream, the Father of the Uitoto Indians glimpsed a shining mist. The mist was alive with mosses and lichens and resonant with winds, birds and snakes. The Father could catch the mist, and he held it with the thread of his breath. He pulled it out of the dream and mixed it with earth.
Several times he spat on the misty earth. In the foamy mash the forest rose up, trees unfolded their enormous crowns, fruit and flowers erupted. On the moistened earth the grasshopper, the monkey, the tapir, the wild boar, the armadillo, the deer, the jaguar, and the antelope took shape and voice. Into the air soared the golden eagle, the macaw, the vulture, the hummingbird, the white heron, the duck and the bat.
The wasp was in a great hurry. He left toads and men without tails and then rested” [The Forest].
Incidentally, he has also written undoubtedly one of the best books on football. “Futbol al sol y sombra” [Football in Sun and Shadow] (1995). In his confessional preface he writes simply: “… yo no soy más que un mendigo de buen fútbol. Voy por el mundo sombrero en mano, y en los estadios suplico: – Una linda jugadita, por amor de Dios. Y cuando el buen fútbol ocurre, agradezco el milagro sin que me importe un rábano cuál es el club o el país que me lo ofrece”.