Voices of Time: A Life in Stories is a compilation of ~330 vignettes, most delivered in one page and many in just a paragraph or two. As such, Voices is a colorful collection of fleeting, but not trivial, thoughts from Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. It is, in turns, poetic, whimsical, political, and reverential. The collection’s subject matter swings from war to art to history to death to religion to everyday living and everything above, below, and in between.
That is not to say there are no recurrent themes. Often Voices reads like a train of thought on a given subject; musings on an idea spill over pages like a Slinky stepping down stairs. Galeano has a way of not only stitching together one musing to the next, he also weaves fluidly from subject to subject. In one thread, for instance, Galeano spends a few pages on poverty and injustice before transitioning into medicine. The titles of these notes alone showcase this style: “Poverty,” “The Closed Door,” “A Lesson in Law,” “A Lesson in Medicine,” and so on.
As another example: “Incantations” begins a run of thirteen vignettes with religious overtones. “The Little Christ” and “The Great Beyond” are slotted here. His musings on religion are then, fittingly, taken over by a series on fear (“Fright,” “Bogeyman,” “Red Alert,” and so on).
The concept of Voices of Time is appealing. Immediately I cannot recall a similarly themed book. Czeslaw Milosz’s Milosz’s ABCs comes to mind, but his is strictly autobiographical, the vignettes being in alphabetical order rather than grouped together by topic. Milosz’s Roadside Dog might come closer to matching Galeano’s style, but Roadside is forthrightly a collection of prose. Jack Kerouac’s Book of Sketches is similar in style (sketches being his term for passing thoughts), but it certainly does not carry the same weight as Galeano’s collection.
Because Voices of Time combines story telling, autobiographical recollections, subtle political vitriol and reflections on art, science, sport (and so much more), it defies simple categorization. Moreover, Galeano's method of tackling particular subject matter (e.g., political turmoil), while largely residing in the Latin American world, has transcendent qualities missing from similarly themed works.
This is one of several "quick reviews," a series that provides a snapshot of international arts and culture.
Follow Shaun on Twitter @shaunrandol
Eduardo Galeano, Latin America, Quick Review, Uruguay