The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America
By Ernesto Che Guevara
Verso, 1995, 155 pp
Jon Lee Anderson spent over five years researching his remarkable book on the life of Che Guevara, including a lengthy period in Cuba where he had access to government archives and many of Guevara's friends and family. His investigations and interviews in Bolivia led directly to the revelation that Guevara had not been cremated, as was often claimed, but had in fact been buried near a dirt airstrip outside the tiny mountain town of Vallegrande in central Bolivia. Anderson traces Guevara's life from his spoiled and rebellious youth in Argentina, through his adventures and misadventures in Guatemala and Mexico, to the success of the Cuban revolution. Anderson's account is well rounded and far from uncritical. Guevara's role as a hard-line orchestrator of the firing squads that dispatched perceived enemies is well described, as is his later estrangement from Castro and distrust of the Soviet Union. The book concludes with graphic accounts of the hitherto murky episode of Guevara's African debacles, and the grim story of his disastrous Bolivia insurgency, capture, and murder.
Castaneda covers much of the same ground in his fine life and death of Guevara, and while his book lacks the journalistic flair and hard legwork so evident in Anderson's account, he does often provide more context and much more comprehensive and explicit documentation. Castaneda seeks to explain the enduring mythos of Guevara and his role in the iconography of the generation of the 1960s worldwide. Anderson and Castaneda in this way complement each other, and both books deserve to be read sequentially.
There is very little political orthodoxy in Guevara's marvelously evocative, at times picaresque, and always fresh account of his journey through South America as he turned 24 years of age, a young man like many of his epoch moved by a grandly romanticized and burning desire to change the world, but unlike many others one who actually did something about it. These aspirations, reflected more clearly in his own words than in his biographies, provide the answer perhaps to the secret of his enduring appeal.