Eduardo Galeano Ruptured the Veins of Imperialism in Latin America
Mark Fried, Galeano’s long-time collaborator and translator, gives us an inside look at the poet and his verse
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer, poet and cultural critic of our time, died on Monday at age seventy-four. This evokes my memory of the fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009 that was held in Port of Spain, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in a very hopeful mood gave the newly elected President of the United States Barack Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America. President Obama was making his first diplomatic visit to the region.
This act really resonated with me, as I worked for President Chávez for several years, and this is the first of many books that President Chávez had given me. Eduardo Galeano’s book, Open Veins of Latin America. Perhaps the book made a difference to Barack Obama. As I begin this interview, President Obama lifted Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.
To discuss Galeano’s work and life, and what he meant in the world, I’m joined by Mark Fried. He is a longtime collaborator and translator of Eduardo Galeano’s work. Among the recent books by Eduardo Galeano translated by Mr. Fried are Children of the Days, Mirrors, Soccer in the Sun and Shadow, and Upside Down.
Mark, thank you so much for joining me today.
MARK FRIED, TRANSLATOR, WORKS OF EDUARDO GALEANO: It’s my pleasure.
PERIES: My deepest condolences to you, and I am sure that this is a very, very difficult time for you, so thank you for joining us.
FRIED: He was a very kind and generous man. And certainly even though I knew he was ill, it’s a shock that he died yesterday.
PERIES: And your thoughts on what the world has lost today?
FRIED: Well, certainly we’ve lost a kind and generous man, as I said something–and for me it’s the loss of a good friend. And he knew many, many people around the world who are also feeling that very close, personal loss. But I think most of all we’ve lost the voice, and the future works he might have written. Because most people around the world know him through his works. His books are extremely popular, particularly in Latin America but all around the world. They’ve been published in over twenty languages. And he has really raised a voice that was unique in the world of literature, in the world of politics. A voice–and you alluded to it in your introduction, that the spoke out loud and clearly took sides on issues, and he managed to reinvent history for people.
You know, for Eduardo, one of the things he said frequently is how bored he was studying history as a child. History classes were all generals dressed up in uniforms parading through, and war after war. But actually, history is fascinating. And history is filled with fascinating personalities and fascinating stories, and he began to collect those stories and tell them. The book you referred to, Open Veins of Latin America, is a book of stories more than anything. It’s a rant. It’s a long, incredibly outraged rant about the exploitation of Latin America by foreign powers. He wrote it when he was twenty-eight years old. I think he wrote it in a period of six weeks. It was ecrit du coeur, you know, it came right from his heart.
But he’s also, his books after that were, he developed a different style. Which was–I mean, he alternated between that style of moral outrage and a style of contemplation and recollection of stories about the past. To help us understand the past better. And I think it’s true to say that his work has changed the way Latin Americans think about themselves. I think it’s changed the way a lot of people think about the past we live in, and the role of the past in our lives.
PERIES: Now, Open Veins of Latin America, taught in many schools, universities, really ruptures the narrative and breaks open the American expansionism in the region, and an understanding of that. A consciousness-raising component, it plays. Your take on the impact this has had, both in Latin America and across the world?
FRIED: Well, everybody knows the book. It is his most popular book. That and the soccer book, as well, the two most popular books he has written. It was written forty years ago. It’s a bit dated, but it still reads–I like the way it reads. You know, it’s like a novel about pirates. It’s interesting and moving to read it, and it tells you, as it gives you a grand narrative of the history of Latin America.
In his works after Open Veins, he was just as tough on Latin America’s oppressors from Latin America as he was on the foreign oppressors of the region. Just as tough on the region’s elites and dictators as he was on foreigners. Which I think probably comes through in Open Veins as well, although the thread of it is the foreign oppression and foreign colonization of the region.
PERIES: Now, as we know, you were a great collaborator in his work. What was the most intriguing and beautiful experience you’ve had working with him?
FRIED: Well, it’s certainly beautiful to work with him. We had a lot of back-and-forths, and we saved each other from a lot of embarrassing moments. He would send me his drafts and I’d comment on them, and then I would send him my drafts, and he would comment on those. And we had a lot of back-and-forths about language. About how to capture certain images.
His books in the last twenty years have been just as political, but much more literary than Open Veins, in that they’re much more poetic. [You might see] Open Veins as poetic. They’re much, much much more literary and beautifully told. Absolutely beautifully told. And it’s a challenge, obviously, to capture that in a different language. And we went back and forth and he helped me with that. I helped him with that as well, and together we pulled things out.
It was delightful when he came to visit here in Ottawa. I live in Ottawa, Canada. And he did make a tour up here after his book Mirrors was published, which is a book made of short, historical vignettes from which retells the history of the world. The subtitle he had in Spanish was Almost a History of the World. In English, we called it Stories of Almost Everyone, because it’s from all over the world.
He came here, I was saying, after the publication of that book on the promotional tour. Basically to visit. It was in 2009, the same year you mentioned that Mr. Chávez gave his book to President Obama. And because that had happened everybody was asking him to sign Open Veins. He wasn’t interested in signing Open Veins, he wanted to sell the new book, of course. Which he did. We had a lineup of–Ottawa’s a relatively small city, but we had four hundred people who turned out to this reading, and a long lineup who all wanted to talk to him. And he being so gracious that he is, he wanted to speak with every single person who wanted to talk to him. And he spent hours there, talking with one after another. And everyone waited in line patiently to get their chance to talk to him because he was, he was a marvelous person.
He had incredible charisma. On the stage and also right when he was standing with you and talking to you. So of course it was marvelous for me to have him here, to host him for a few days here in my hometown.
PERIES: I was also present in New York when he read from Mirrors, and what was stark to me is the number of writers that were present in the audience there to listen to him. So he garnered enormous respect from other writers of his caliber, and of course much more. I’m wondering what your favorite book was of his?
FRIED: My favorite is the soccer book. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. It’s great. I mean, he’s a passionate soccer fan, and he’s written a book that–as he put it, it’s a book for people who–for readers who are afraid of soccer, and soccer fans who are afraid of books. And so they can somehow come together, because–it’s a wonderful book to read. And it’s a terrific introduction to soccer, or a book about soccer, for those who are already fans. And it is just as political, it’s not called In Sun and Shadow for nothing. He talked about the good side and the bad side. Talks about the domination of the corporations of the great tournaments–by the corporations, of the tournaments. He talks about the oppression of players, the way they’re treated and the struggles for decent treatment in the workplace.
It’s a political book, but it’s also wonderfully wonderfully told.
PERIES: Can I ask you to read a passage from the book?
FRIED: This is The Author’s Confession, from Soccer In Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano. He opens the book:
“Like all Uruguayan children, I wanted to be a soccer player. And I played quite well. In fact, I was terrific. But only at night when I was asleep.
“During the day I was the worst wooden-leg to ever set foot on the little soccer fields of my country. As a fan, I also left a lot to be desired. Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Julio César Abbadie played for Peñarol, the enemy team. I was a loyal Nacional fan, and I did everything I could to hate them. But with his masterful passes, El Pepe Schiaffino orchestrated the team’s plays as if he were watching from the highest tower of the stadium. And El Pardo Abbadie, running in his seven-league boots, would slide the ball all the way down the white touch line, swaying back and forth without ever grazing the ball or his opponents.
“I couldn’t help admiring them. And I even felt like cheering.
“Years have gone by, and I finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched. And in the stadiums I plead, “A pretty move, for the love of God.” And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle, and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”
PERIES: Mark Fried, collaborator and translator of Eduardo Galeano. Thank you so much for joining us today.
FRIED; Thank you, it’s my pleasure to be with you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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