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Review of

Eduardo Galeano 's Voices of Time: A Life in Stories

Trans. Mark Fried/ Metropolitan, 2006

By Patrick Madden

“O that I were an angel and could…speak with the trump of God” laments Alma in the Book of Mormon. I know how he feels. His wish is to preach repentance to the ends of the earth. Me, I’d settle for turning some people on to Eduardo Galeano, Uruguay’s finest writer.

It was summer; I had just moved to Utah. I rode the ever-late bus home from BYU each evening. I suppose it was better than a muggy summer elsewhere, but for a young professor wanting to hang his hat and call it a day, the wait in the stifling sun was nigh unbearable.

Galeano’s Voices of Time was a fine book to read at the bus stop, to divert my mind from the heat and fill the spaces in between with wonder. I sat fidgeting on the grass beside the sidewalk, sidelong-glancing down University Avenue, hoping to see the 811. When trucks rumbled past my perch, my seat shook. When words tumbled in my mind, my soul quaked.

The book brought me painful and joyous vignettes of lives observed, lived, meditated upon, from the inception of the universe to yesterday. As in many of his previous books, Galeano whittled stories to their barest essences, squeezing from them the very stuff of life. Three-hundred-thirty-three times he revealed the universe through a keyhole, retelling true stories, connecting, intimating, reproaching, encroaching, celebrating.

One such summer day, worrying my eyes down the street, looking for a sign, I met Avel de Alencar, secretly photocopying classified documents revealing the crimes and abuses of the Brazilian military dictatorship. One night, Avel finds a decade-old confiscated letter, still in its envelope, sealed with a woman’s kiss. The next night, more letters, successively for weeks. Knowing that many of the addressees will have moved, gone into exile, or been killed, nonetheless, “At the end of each night, Avel put the letters in their envelopes, stuck on fresh stamps, and dropped them in the mailbox.”

And that was only the beginning.

Patrick Madden teaches at Brigham Young University. His essays have recently been published in Northwest Review, Portland Magazine, and Fourth Genre.