by Eduardo Galeano
Nation Books, 2010, 391 pgs. ISBN 978-1-568-58612-0. $16.95 paper.
It’seasy to chronicle the history of the world if you can take volumes to tell the story and make sure it is told from the point of view of the victorious. Galeano has taken the more difficult path in this endeavor. He chooses to relate history in small bites that often depict the perspective of the downtrodden and vanquished.
Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone picks up where Galeano’s previous effort, Memory of Fire, took the reader. In Memory of Fire, Galeano retold the history of North America by relating 500 stories about its past. This time, the author chooses 600 stories to encompass the history of the entire world. But the succinct and powerful style of this storyteller is not diluted by expanding the geography. These poignant vignettes weave staple facts with personal human stories that punctuate many of the most significant moments in the history of the world.
An inescapable theme in this book is that the playing field throughout history has never been level. Powerful interests have always directed the fate and future of what is called the “unseen, unheard, forgotten” and powerless of the world. Galeano illustrates that idea by coupling related themes, including reflections on the 20,000 workers who built the Taj Mahal over 20 years with the Black slaves who built the White House. He mixes real-life experiences with those of the gods as he effortlessly moves from fact to fable to make his larger points. He draws readers into his story of Odin, the Viking god of war who launched his magic lance to wage war from afar and reminds us that Odin’s lance was a precursor of remote controlled missiles.
Galeano is not afraid to use humor to make a larger, more sobering point that the cultures of the world are not so different as they share a collective humanity. The ride through time is not chronological. Galeano moves back and forth through the ages to illustrate how alike our human life experiences have been from the beginning of man’s recorded history. He parallels stories of Egypt’s Osiris and Isis and the Bible’s Adam and Eve.
In an interview, Galeano summarized what he had in mind when he compiled these stories. “I wanted to write a book without borders, unbounded by time or place, and that is why, from the outset, writing Mirrors was an adventure in freedom.” And what an adventure he has created!