Thursday, 26 May 2011
Galeano may be rubbing off on me.
Okay, so, Mirrors is not a novel. It's a collection of very short essays, one paragraph or maybe two, about historical events. It covers the entire range of human experience, and pretty much every time period in our not very illustrious history. It shows how we make the same mistakes, over and over. It concentrates on war and discrimination. You'll only need to read a few pages before you start to feel bad about yourself.
Don't attempt to read more than a few in one sitting, or you'll start noticing the themes of the condemnation of America and religion and white men in general (which is fair enough, maybe) over the insights into the past. And some of them are great - I kept thinking this could be a historical novelist's dream. So many times I could have written a book about some throwaway piece of history, and it actually becomes quite frustrating to not have a longer story about them. Here's a veggie one as an example:
Doomed By Your Past
Corn, sacred plant of the Maya, was given several names in Europe. The names recast geography: they called it Turkish grain, Arab grain, grain of Egypt, or grain of India. These errors did nothing to rescue corn from mistrust and scorn. When people learned where it came from, they fed it to the pigs. Corn had a higher yield than wheat and it grew faster, resisted drought, and produced good food. But it was not proper for Christian mouths.
The potato was also a forbidden fruit in Europe. Like corn, its American origins condemned it. Worse, the potato was a root grown in the depths of the earth, where hell has its caves. Doctors knew it caused leprosy and syphilis. In Ireland, if a pregnant woman ate a potato at night, in the morning she would give birth to a monster. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the potato was fed only to prisoners, lunatics, and the dying.
Later on, this cursed root rescued Europe from hunger. But not even then did people stop wondering: if not food of the devil, then why are potatoes and corn not mentioned in the Bible?
See what I mean?
Mirrors is a fantastically interesting book, and I would like to have some of the passion that inspired such a huge undertaking. But would I like to get that passion at the expense of my soft white upbringing? No. I'm thinking not. I'm sorry for all the terrible things that happened throughout history, and I'm glad that there are novelists out there who can tackle such things so that we don't forget them. I'm also glad I'm not one of them.