Feb 1, 2009

Ernesto, el hombre ante el Che

I just finished reading Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries. I've wanted to read it for some time now. Those who know me may be shocked, given that I am about as far from his politics as one can be (it's nearly impossible to have studied economics at the University of Chicago and not leave a devoted Friedmanite...). However, no matter the political stripe, I found it to be an excellent read.

First off, very little (in fact, almost none) of the book is about politics. There are a few moments where he mentions his anger at American capitalists or the exploitation of workers throughout the villages he meets. Those, however, are limited asides. The story is a travel adventure. I imagine that it would be difficult for anyone to read it and not want to travel throughout South America with a friend (his was Alberto Granado), given his rich descriptions of the people and sights of Chile and Peru. Add in the romance of being penniless and surviving on the kindness of strangers, and you have a worthwhile story. Sometimes they are cold, sometimes they are wet, sometimes they are hungry. Sometimes they find friends, and sometimes they are pariahs. All told, however, they make it from Buenos Aires to Santiago to Lima to Caracas, meeting many interesting locals along the way.

The most disappointing aspect of the book is actually a lack of development in the character of Che himself. Those who say that it is a story of political development or friendship are just plain wrong. Che merely describes what he sees and does. His interpretations of events, his motivations, and his political shift aren't recorded. Perhaps he wasn't particularly reflective, or (more likely, I think), he simply didn't write how he felt in his diary at the time. It's a travel read, nothing more and nothing less. It certainly helps one to understand what Che saw and to speculate how that affected his future beliefs. However, speculation is all that the text itself allows.

So, again--all in all, well worth the read. I would like to see what the movie has to say. I'm still not going out to buy one of those cliche shirts, though, because, though throughout the book, Che remains a remarkably likeable guy, one can never read him without remembering the butcher that he, unfortunately, became.

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