Review: The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Che Guevara has always been a perplexing character to me. During my undergrad years, I have come across people who worshiped him, and several who disliked him. That was pretty much my first introduction to this character. Until last year, when I first saw the movie The Motorcycle Diaries. I absolutely loved it. I didn't know what to make of Che Guevara even then, but I could relate to the beginnings of his humanitarian interest.

Fueled by that impression, I started reading the journal on which the movie is based. There is something about reading journals that feels very raw. It was just as like reading Anne Frank's diary - a collection of daily thoughts jotted down to narrate some particular period in life. On its own, the diary is complete, but someone interested in the later life of Che Guevara will be interested in the implications of the diary records.

The Motorcycle Diaries is Che's account of his journey to explore South America with his friend, Alberto Granado, on an ancient Norton motorcycle. In the prologue, Che's father writes in the prologue,
I didn't realize then that his obsession with traveling was just another part of his zeal for learning. He knew that really to understand the needs of the poor he had to travel the world, not as a tourist stopping to take pretty pictures and enjoy the scenery, but in the way he did, by sharing the human suffering found at every bend in the road and looking for the causes of that misery.
I found the start of the book to be slightly shaky and unsure, but that could be just me getting used to a person's style of writing.

I found I could empathize with Che when he narrated the sufferings of the people he came across. The mindsets of some people were very primitive, especially where leprosy is concerned, but that more or less was the basic belief held by most people across the world. Those suffering from leprosy were usually isolated thanks to the predominant thinking that the disease can be spread by touch. What Che and Alberto tried to do for these people was quite touching. But occasionally, Che falls into the same trap of ridiculing one set of people while focusing on another. I can't say I very much agreed with his line of thought at those points.

Many times, his entries were hilarious as well. Alberto and Che formed a charismatic duo. I liked them in the movie, and enjoyed their company even more in the book. The respect each had for the other was very evident. They were broke most of the time, so they had a string of stories construed to evoke sympathy among the listeners. Sometimes they were lucky to impress their audience enough to earn their lunch or be invited to parties.

Che's transition in his beliefs and the changes in his character are quite evident as we go from the first page to the last. There are stronger and harsher opinions, more analyses of the bias that exist and the stark contrast between the ways of life of the rich and the poor. His criticisms also become more pointed and specific, while his dreams and wishes get a clearer outline. There were times I lost the thread of his thoughts, especially when I was treated to an extensive narration of the history behind a place or people. In the end, I feel that I enjoyed the movie more than the book, but the book gave me a better historical reference than the movie.

  

Check out this book published by Verso @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I borrowed this book from the library.

6 comments:

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I have heard a lot about the movie, and it has all been good, but I have to admit that it hadn't really occured to me to read the book. It sounds fascinating though I will definitely keep an eye out for it when I am out book hunting.

I have a non-fiction account of his life on my book shelf that I have started many times but never been able to get into. I really admire people who are really able to live that they believe.

I am glad that I read your review.

bermudaonion said...

I know who Che Guevara was, but I didn't know anything about his motorcycle journey and its impact on his life. This sounds interesting to me.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Confession: saw the movie, but didn't read the book. It's the type of story that works better for me as a movie, I must say.

Emidy said...

I'm surprised to say that I've never heard of the book or the movie! I'd love to check them both out, though. Probably the book first. Great review!

bookishbarney said...

I rather liked the film, but I wasn't as keen on the book. It all got a bit jumbled for me, and I didn't find it as... what's the word... complete? reflective? as I thought it would be. That said, I did just buy another book of his thoughts, 'Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War', and I might pick up the Bolivian diaries sometime. Think your review nailed the good and the bad right on the head!
Ellie

MissAttitude said...

I too have conflicted views on Che Guevara. So many people adore him and others absolutely despise him. I think I'm in the middle, but your review has made me curious to both see the Motorcycle Diaries and read it.

Thank you for such an excellent review :)