Monday, April 20, 2009

All the President's books

On Friday, President Obama accepted a book from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The book was Eduardo Galeano’s "Open Veins of Latin America." Obama should read it, he really should. Galeano is an amazing writer. An outspoken leftist who had to flee right-wing death squads in his home country of Uruguay and more death squads under Argentina’s military junta. Galeano wrote his masterpiece "Memory of Fire" (Memoria del Fuego) while an exile in Spain.

Pres. Obama may read the gift book from Chavez. The prez, after all, is a reader. A writer, too. Reading good writers keeps the mind open, allows new ideas to permeate the brain and circulate freely. Allows you to consider new ways to do things. Chat with former enemies of the U.S., for instance.

Americans seem to have the idea that we invented the world. But the world was well on its way by the time we formed our democracy. Some 300 years of Latin American history had transpired by 1776. And a bloody history it was. In his book, Galeano tells short stories of the good and the bad and the in-between. The stories are compelling and the history, compelling and infuriating. How can humans make the same mistakes over and over again? So writers have something to write about.

I learned volumes about the history of this region from "Memory of Fire" when I read it in the early 1990s. As a writer, I was impressed with Galeano’s style. He did his research and transformed it into this book that was both personal and universal. Wikipedia described it this way: "It starts with pre-Columbian creation myths and ends in the 1980s. It highlights not only the colonial oppression that the continent underwent but particularly the long history of resistance, from individual acts of heroism to mass revolutionary movements."

He also prompted me to read John Dos Passos’s "U.S.A." trilogy, which documented our history in a similar fashion. Dos Passos documents labor struggles and war and politics through a variety of characters. He intersperses that with "newsreel" sections which document world events in the manner of movie theater shorts. It was a very original idea and ahead of its time. Dos Passos went from being a rabble-rousing leftist in the 1930s to a diehard Republican in the 1950s. People can change, can’t they?

"Open Veins of Latin America" has already shot up the book sales lists. I would like to see a photo of our president reading Galeano’s book. Sipping coffee in the Oval Office, his attention on reading. This photo would send out all kinds of messages. The main one is: "I read. I understand."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please don't forget another good read, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States". Mr. Zinn explores the effects of our nation's actions on ourselves and the rest of the world.

An eyeopener that should be taught in our high schools. With real education, there might be fewer dropouts.

nancy S.