Upside Down : A Primer for the Looking-Glass World

Readers of Galeano’s ‘Windows’ column for this magazine will already have some idea of his unique outlook, deftly translated from the Spanish by Mark Fried. In this latest book the inveterate beachcomber of history creates for us a complete vision of quite breathtaking insight and beauty.

The premise is simple. Where Alice imagined a land of inverted logic, Galeano describes the wonderland of an order imposed by standing humanity on its head – recognizable once more only when stood on its feet. So: ‘From the point of view of the Indians of the Caribbean islands, Christopher Columbus, with his plumed cap and red velvet cape, was the biggest parrot they had ever seen... From the point of view of the natives, it’s the tourists who are picturesque.’

Fear, criminality, impunity, discarded fragments of the truth, are recognized for what they are and reassembled as traces of life from another planet – the one we somehow seem to know yet long to inhabit.

Every now and then a new book is given to us like a rare and very precious gem. What makes this one of them is not just the pure stream of perception that runs right through it, but the blessed good humour of it all, the sparkling hilarity of life. When Galeano looks ‘beyond the abominations of today to divine another possible world’, he gives us not portentous beatitudes but a few gentle hints – ‘earnestness shall no longer be a virtue, and no-one shall be taken seriously who can’t make fun of himself’ – under the title ‘The Right to Rave’.

Real magic, not magic realism. Surely, his is the surviving genius of its time and place.

mag cover This article is from the July 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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