- Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History by Eduardo Galeano
With this book Eduardo Galeano has leaped from the history of the Americas to the scale of global human history. The book reflects, however, the same leftist, anti-imperialist, anticapitalist, anti-military, and anti-church point of view as his earlier books.
Galeano (September 3, 1940–) is a Uruguayan writer from Montevideo who twice had to flee military coups, first in Uruguay (1973), then in Argentina (1976). He returned to Montevideo in 1985. He combines fiction, journalism, history, poetry, and memoir in a passionate drive to remember, especially by resurrecting the voices of the forgotten and unheard, the “nobodies” of history. His best-known books are The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of a Pillage of a Continent (1971), a denunciation of European and U.S. economic exploitation and political domination, andMemory of Fire (1982–1986), a three-volume history told in stories of oppression and resistance in North and South America from Columbus’s arrival to the 1980s. [End Page 743]
Children of the Days consists of a mosaic of short vignettes, laid out one per day on the (Roman) calendar of a year. It takes its title from a Maya poem, presumably the Popol Vuh, although the citation is not clear. The surprising, intriguing brief stories are somehow connected to their day of the year but not to each other, resulting in a panorama of the paradoxes of human history—terrible oppression and cruelty mixed with heroic resistance, defiance, and humor—a triumph of mosaic art.Children contains tidbits to surprise anyone. From the entry on June 5, World Environment Day, I learned that Ecuador’s new constitution was the world’s first to recognize nature as a subject with rights. I also learned that Galeano thinks that if nature were a bank, the U.S. would by now have rescued it (p. 173). From the entry of April 18, the anniversary of Albert Einstein’s death, I learned that the FBI kept a file on him for 22 years as a likely Communist. (He was a socialist and defender of civil rights leaders.)
The mixed genres that Galeano uses are anathema to most professional historians. Since he gives no sources, checking his veracity becomes a time-consuming task. But he brings history to a large audience. In 2009, when Hugo Chávez gave a copy of Open Veins of Latin America to President Obama at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, it went to the number 2 position on the Amazon bestseller list. This is popular history, which students can enjoy and use for further research and professors can use to liven up their lectures. Galeano told Amy Goodwin in a 2009 interview that “I don’t want to teach anyone anything. I just want to tell stories that deserve to be told.” He further said that he wanted to propose “a new model of the world, not consecrated to this human passion of killing each other.” His book is valuable for its humane intent, its appealing language, and its unambiguous point of view—so long as one doesn’t try to read too many entries at one time.
Galeano, at age 73, ends his calendar of stories with one about a Roman physician, Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, who offered this prescription to avoid tertian fever (malaria): hang across your chest day and night the word “Abracadabra,” which Galeano says is ancient Hebrew for “Give your fire until the last of your days” (p. 397).
San Rafael, California