‘The Book of Embraces’ by Eduardo Galeano – Imprisoned for Writing in Support of the Downtrodden


‘The Book of Embraces’ by Eduardo Galeano (1989) – 272 pages          Translated from the Spanish by Cedric Befrage


‘The Book of Embraces’ is a collection of short passionate vignettes or word pictures. Most of the items are about people who actually lived and events that really happened. It is a collection of short scenes or ideas for us to contemplate. Here are parables, paradoxes, dreams, anecdotes, and fragments of autobiography. I would classify this book as an enlightened journalism. These brief texts are illustrated with line drawings by Galeano himself.

Galeano had started out writing more traditional history, fiction, and analyses of Latin America with his ‘Open Veins of Latin America’ and his ‘Memory of Fire’ trilogy. However later he decided the more fragmentary style of writing was more effective in getting his messages across. I found this method quite compelling; for me, it does qualify as literature of a high order.

I write for those who cannot read me: the downtrodden, the ones who have been waiting on line for centuries to get into history, who cannot read a book or afford to buy one.”

In the 1970s Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru were all ruled by United States-sponsored dictatorships. These dictators ran roughshod over the people they were supposed to be governing. Many of the people who opposed these dictators were “disappeared”, in many cases taken up in airplanes and dumped into the ocean. Eduardo Galeano was imprisoned for his writing in Uruguay, and when he was released he fled for exile in Argentina in 1976. However in that same year there was a bloody military coup in Argentina and Galeano’s name was added to the list of those condemned by the death squads. Galeano escaped again, this time to Spain.

Yes. Yes, finally, I fled away from Argentina also, because—I couldn’t stay in Uruguay, because I don’t like to be in jail, and I didn’t stay in Argentina. I could not, because I didn’t want to lay in a cemetery, because, as I told you before, death is very boring.”

Eduardo Galeano, who died in 2015, was known for the courage of his directness and outspokenness in defying repressive Latin American regimes. He was also known for his love of and his writings about soccer.

Here is a fine example of one of these vignettes called “System/1” which also could be used to describe the Trump years in the US:

Functionaries don’t function,

Politicians speak but say nothing,

Voters vote but don’t elect,

The information media disinform,

Schools teach ignorance,

Judges punish the victims,

The military makes war against its compatriots,

The police don’t fight crime because they are too busy committing it,

Bankruptcies are socialized while profits are privatized,

Money is freer than people are,

People are at the service of things.”

In one short section called “Paradoxes”, Galeano writes, “North American blacks, the most oppressed of peoples, created jazz, the freest of all music”.

Finally, in 1984, Galeano was able to return to Uruguay.

The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret: every year, without making a sound, three Hiroshima bombs explode over communities that have become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth.”

Eduardo Galeano is a good place to begin to understand Latin America and its history of brutal repression.


Grade:    A




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