Although Mr. Galeano and I are worlds apart politically, I admire him as a writer. His ability to paint such vivid murals with a modicum of words is astounding to say the least. I began reading the book, 1) because I’ve always enjoyed reading South American authors, and 2) having met so many Latin American people in the cigar business over the years, I wanted to gain a better understanding of their cultural backgrounds and histories.
“Memory of Fire” is an intoxicating read, but due to its breadth, it’s hard to explain. This excerpt from the Publisher’s Weekly editorial on Amazon.com efficiently sums it up: “In this Uruguayan journalist’s epic tapestry, stitched together from hundreds of historical cameos, the destinies of North and South America are darkly linked…As Galeano replays the obscenities and horrors of modern history, he lays bare the fractured soul of Latin America.”
Written in short, pithy, and beautifully lyrical chapters or “scenes,” Galeano jumps around a lot. One moment you’re in Mexico, the next in Brazil, then Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua etc., including the island nations of Cuba, The Dominican Republic and Haiti, which brings me to today’s post.
A few days ago, I read the following chapter from the third volume, Century of the Wind, which covers the 20th century from 1900 to 1984. Although the scene takes place in 1943, from an allegorical perspective, it offers a menacing snapshot of Haiti today:
1943: Mount Rouis
A Little Grain of Salt
In a bar, surrounded by kids with bloated bellies and skeletal dogs, Hector Hyppolite paints gods with a brush of hens’ feathers. Saint John the Baptist turns up in the evenings and helps him.
Hyppolite portrays the gods who paint through his hand. These Haitian gods, painted and painters, live simultaneously on earth and in heaven and hell: Capable of good and evil, they offer their children vengeance and solace.
Not all have come from Africa. Some were born here, like Baron Samedi, god of solemn stride, master of poisons and graves, his blackness enhanced by top hat and cane. That poison should kill and the dead rest in peace depends on Baron Samedi. He turns many dead into zombies and condemns them to slave labor.
Zombies — dead people who walk or live ones who have lost their souls — have a look of hopeless stupidity. But in no time they can escape and recover their lost lives, their stolen souls. One little gram of salt is enough to awaken them. And how could salt be lacking in the home of the slaves who defeated Napoleon and founded freedom in America?
© 1986 by Eduardo GaleanoThink about it.