This is a book you are either going to love or going to hate. There really is no in-between. And you wouldn’t know until you have read at least a quarter or more of it.
Genesis is the story of the Americas, in particular South America, and the invasion of it by the Europeans, mostly the Spanish in this book. The story is conveyed via the use of small, short mini stories. Some of these stories are creation myths of First Peoples, some are the views of the Incas, Mayas, and other tribes as the Spanish arrive, some the view of the would be conquerors, and some the view of those who stayed in the Old World. Men, women, rich poor, royal, servant, playwright and theatre grower, prostitute and nun.
The book is one that you can alternately dip into and out while at times being engrossing. The first few stories are creation myths, stories not only about the start of the world but about the birth of animals. You will never look at bats the same way. This opening salvo is peaceful and magical.
And then it ends.
What follows is the arrival of those from the Old World. The central setting is South America, so it most South America. While the majority of the chapters are about the invasion or clash of the two forces, there are some pre-contact stories, such as rise of the Incas (the section about Incan tax is my favorite).
The discovery/ invasion section is mostly on the side of the natives, but there are some nicely shaded sections. One of them is about La Malinche, the woman who travels with Cortez and who, according to Michael Wood’s documentary, is routinely cursed because of her guiding of Cortez throughout the country. Galeano’s view of her is more nuanced than that of a either demon or victim. He also looks at the role of women, both native and Spaniard, and how power shifts and changes.
The stories are brief but complex. Part of this is because of the subject matter, and part because of the shifting styles. Poetry, plays, and traditional story telling are all used. The book might a bastard version of different styles, but in many ways those of us we currently live the Americas are all bastard versions of something.
In short, the book is powerful, thought provoking, and not at all easy reading.