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The Writing Life: Eduardo Galeano

Scenes From the Life of a South American Literary Legend

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Marie Arana talks with Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, whose "Open Veins of Latin America" was given to President Barack Obama from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Galeano's most recent work is "Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone." Edited by Mike Schmuhl/The Washington Post
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By Eduardo Galeano
Sunday, June 14, 2009

WHEN I WROTE "Soccer in Sun and Shadow," I wanted fans of reading to lose their fear of soccer and fans of soccer to lose their fear of books. I never imagined anything more.

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But a former member of the Mexican congress, Victor Quintana, told me the book saved his life. In the middle of 1997, he was kidnapped by contract killers, hired to punish him for exposing some nasty business.

They had him trussed up, face in the dirt, and were kicking him to death, when, just before finishing him off with a bullet, they started arguing about soccer. Victor, more dead than alive, put in his two cents. And he started telling stories from my book, trading minutes of life for every tale out of those pages. Time and stories came and went, and at last the murderers left him, beaten and broken, but alive.

"You're okay," they told him, and they took their bullets elsewhere.

-- -- --

I don't know Jorge Ventocilla. Rather, I've never met him, but my books are his friends, so I am too.

When "Mirrors" was first published in Spanish last year, Jorge decided that the book, not readily available in Panama, ought to be handed around from one reader to another.

Though his savings didn't amount to much, in a flight of fancy he used them all to buy copies of "Mirrors," and he set them loose in cafés, stores, barbershops, kiosks, everywhere. He inscribed each one:

"This free book is a traveling book. Read it and pass it on."

And so it was.

-- -- --

In 1971, I submitted "Open Veins of Latin America" for the Casa de las Américas prize in Cuba. It lost. Perhaps the jury thought the manuscript was not serious enough.


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