Over the weekend Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch published eight excerpts from Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, the most recent work by Eduardo Galeano, whose mesmerizing ability to bring voice to history’s voiceless —along with an uncanny talent to make every sentence count— lands him squarely on the short list of my favorite writers and journalists on the planet. And among its finest.
As Englehardt writes:
He was, early in his professional life, a cartoonist and never lost the lightness of spirit that went with that role. Still, the world he observed and experienced in prison, in exile, year after year, decade after decade, especially through the eyes of the poor and those denied their voice, was anything but light. Yet he approached the underworld of history with an empathy and understanding which is almost indescribable. His friends died in struggles across Latin America and yet, in an act of wizardry, he was capable of bringing them back to life on the page. He heard voices no one else could hear and similarly brought them to life and so to our attention.
Of the book, Engelhardt says:
Think of it as a secular prayer book for any year.
The passages he includes are from the section, On Women Who Refused to Live in Silence and Be Consigned to Oblivion. Here’s one:
The Mother of Female Journalists
On this morning in 1889, Nellie Bly set off.
Jules Verne did not believe that this pretty little woman could circle the globe by herself in less than eighty days.
But Nellie put her arms around the world in seventy-two, all the while publishing article after article about what she heard and observed.
This was not the young reporter’s first exploit, nor would it be the last.
To write about Mexico, she became so Mexican that the startled government of Mexico deported her.
To write about factories, she worked the assembly line.
To write about prisons, she got herself arrested for robbery.
To write about mental asylums, she feigned insanity so well that the doctors declared her certifiable. Then she went on to denounce the psychiatric treatments she endured, as reason enough for anyone to go crazy.
In Pittsburgh when Nellie was twenty, journalism was a man’s thing.
That was when she committed the insolence of publishing her first articles.
Thirty years later, she published her last, dodging bullets on the front lines of World War I.