THE BOOK OF EMBRACES by Eduardo Galeano , translated from the Spanish by Cedric Belfrage (W. W. Norton: $19.95; 281 pp.) . Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano is best known for "Memory of Fire," his idiosyncratic three-volume history of the Americas. This book is an introduction to the man, his work, his friends, his heroes and his abiding passions. It consists of 191 anecdotes, legends, dreams, meditations and snippets of autobiography, ranging in length from a paragraph to a couple of pages, illustrated by whimsical collages pieced together from 19th-Century engravings.
Galeano spent 13 years in exile in Spain while military dictatorships gripped Uruguay and Argentina. His hatred of right-wing regimes extends to Nicaragua (where he speaks favorably of the Sandinistas), pre-Castro Cuba, Pinochet's Chile and present-day El Salvador. Even when tyrants fall, he says, "it doesn't bother (the ruling elite) very much that politics be democratic so long as the economy is not."
Politics, however, is an integral part of a Latin American writer's life, as is so seldom true north of the Rio Grande. Galeano is an angry man but also a warm and playful one. His personality is enough to hold together this book of fragments. As he thumbs his nose at God, celebrates love and art, sketches cities and poets, quotes graffiti from walls all over the hemisphere, he insists on the sheer power of storytelling: "These happenings happened at one time or another, or almost did, or never did, but their virtue is that they happen every time they are told."