I have just bought probably my fifth copy of this wonderful book by Eduardo Galeano (translated by Cedric Belfrage). The other copies I could not resist giving away to friends and family. It is that sort of book, you want everyone you love to read and be similarly mesmerised and enriched by it.

From the very outset, as Galeano pays tribute to his longstanding friend and translator Belfrage, who had recently died, the author welcomes us into the intimacy of his world and self:

‘A part of me died with him.

A part of him lives with me.’

The Book of Embraces is largely comprised of short pieces and vignettes that embrace personal stories, parables, politics, dreams, and above all a wonderment on life and on being human.

In one such piece, The Function of Art/2:

‘The chief took his time, then said:

That scratches. It scratches hard and it scratches very well.”

And then:

“But it scratches where there isn’t any itch.” ‘

Few words say much with Galeano’s pen.

He speaks of Pinochet, of political prisoners and military dictatorships, the tragedies emphasised by personal narratives. He tells the story of Jose Carrasco, for example, a journalist who was dragged from his house following an attempt on the life of Pinochet:

‘At the foot of a wall on the edge of Santiago, they put fourteen bullets in his head.’

‘The neighbors never washed the blood away. The place became a sanctuary for the poor, always strewn with candles and flowers, and Jose Carrasco became a miracle worker.’

In a piece titled Forgetting/2, Galeano continues the political thread that suffuses the book:

‘Military dictatorship, fear of listening, fear of speaking, made us deaf and dumb. Now democracy, with its fear of remembering, infects us with amnesia…’

Divorces:

‘Our system is one of detachment: to keep silenced people from asking questions, to keep the judged from judging, to keep solitary people from joining together, and the soul from putting together its pieces.’

And politics and society in The System/1:

‘Politicians speak but say nothing.

Voters vote but don’t elect.

The information media disinform.

Schools teach ignorance.

Judges punish the victims.’

‘Money is freer than people are.

People are at the service of things.’

There is much autobiographical in the book, including Galeano’s reflections following a heart attack, when death was ‘clawing at the center of my chest.’ He spent the time while recuperating updating his address book, and as he transferred names from old to new, he experienced ‘a prolonged mourning for the dead who had remained in the dead one of my heart, and a long, much longer celebration of those still alive who fired my blood and swelled my surviving heart.’

He ends this vignette with my favourite sentence from a most magical book:

‘And there was nothing bad and nothing odd about the fact that my heart had broken from so much use.’

CQ

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