What a week: Eduardo  Galeano, Gunter Grass and Percy Sledge

April 16, 2015
2 mins read

On Monday night, the BBC’s NEWSHOUR programme, reported the passing of the Uruguayan leftwing writer, Eduardo Galeano 74, and the German writer, poet and Nobel Laureate, Gunter Grass, 87. And just as I made up my mind to write a tribute to those outstanding writers, by Tuesday night, the same BBC programme was also reporting Percy Sledge’s death, at 73.

What a week to lose three outstanding representatives of human culture?! In 2010, Gunter Grass was one of the special guests at the World Editors’ Forum in Hamburg, Germany. He was already an old man even then, but was invited to address us, against the backdrop of the very disturbing events in the contemporary world.

Grass’ best known work is DIE BLECHTROMMEL (The Tin Drum), and on being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999, the Nobel Committee said of the work: it “was as if German literature had been granted a new beginning after decades of linguistic and moral destruction”.

It was in 2006 that he published the first in a triology of autobiographic memoirs. For the first time, he revealed that he had served in the Waffen SS, one of the most vicious of the Nazi gangs. It shocked a world that was willing to accuse him of hypocrisy for concealing that aspect of his past for so long, while being recognized as a strong voice for ethics and morality in the public space.

What must be said

In 2012, he wrote a poem “What Must Be Said”, in which Grass expressed concern about the hypocritical German military support for a nuclear-armed Israel, saying the submarine it was given “could wipe out the Iranian people”. He then demanded that: “the governments of both Iran and Israel allow an international authority free and open inspection of the nuclear capability of both”.

In response, Israel declared him persona non grata! Gunter Grass died of a lung infection on Monday, but was without doubt, one of the greatest writers of the troubled 20th Century. Similarly, Eduardo Galeano died on Monday and is best remembered for one of the greatest leftwing books of the Twentieth Century, OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA, written in 1971.

Galeano had started his career as a journalist in the early 1960s. OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA was banned by rightwing military dictators in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. The book radicalised generations of leftwing activists all through the late Twentieth Century.

It gained renewed popularity after a copy was given to President Barack Obama, by the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, during the 5th Summit of the Americas, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Galeano described himself as: “ a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia”.

Beautiful love songs

Galeano burnt his imprimatur on the world of his time and remained true to his anti-imperialist convictions till the end of his life.

On Tuesday night, the BBC also announced the passing of the African American singer, Percy Sledge, whose song “When a Man Loves a Woman”, hit the world in 1966. It was certainly one of the most beautiful love songs of all time!

I used to be a deejay on Radio Nigeria in the 1990s, and I remember just how popular Percy Sledge’s song was. It was a ballad that touched the human heart and for an incurable romantic like me, he spoke, or sang, to my feelings in the most inimitable manner.

Percy Sledge came from a working class background and had worked as an agricultural labourer, before becoming a hospital orderly at a hospital, when, according to the legend a patient heard him sing and arranged for him to meet a producer, who signed him on his first contract.

The rest, as they say, is history. Human kind has lost three outstanding cultural workers and each in his own way, enriched our humanity with his artistic output. Please take a moment, if you have the access, to read the works of Gunter Grass and Eduardo Gaelano or just indulge the romantic side to your life, by listening to Percy Sledge’s original rendering of “When a Man Loves a Woman”.

Didn’t another Uruguayan remind us the other day, that love is the only permissible addiction? Try it for a change!

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