Review: The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Motobook7This is one of four books I’m attempting to finish over the course of this week.  This one happened to get done first.

I told my friend Kelly in high school that I was communist the day that she opened my phone and saw a Che Guevara background on it.  I really wasn’t; I think I just said it to get a rise out of my group of friends.  I had it on there because it looked cool.  I really didn’t know anything about the guy, just that he was involved in the Cuban revolution.

A quick Google search, however, revealed quite a bit about Che and the impact he had not just on the country of Cuba (which he led through a revolution with Fidel Castro), but on the whole world.  I’ve gone through several online articles about the man and (unfortunately) watched The Motorcycle Diaries before reading it (naturally, the book is much better).   The man who was Che Guevara is, to me, intriguing, bold, and respectable, though not always admirable (I tend to not favor armed revolution).

This is where the Diaries come in.  TMD is Guevara’s account of a trip he took from his hometown in Argentina up through South America, crossing through Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela.  On his way, he speaks of encountering all kinds of people throughout the continent, from indigenous tribes to mulattos (mixed-race Native Americans and Hispanics) to white tourists.  He spends much of his time among the working class, as well as working at leper colonies in the back half of the book, which is where much of his fire for liberating the people came.

Some have compared Guevara’s diaries to other road trip accounts, such as On the Road combined with the film Easy Rider, but I really have to disagree.  For one, there’s a severe shortage of drugs (though he does drink when the opportunity presents itself, but for two, the outcomes and lessons learned by the protagonists are remarkably different. On the Road was more about the Beat Generation searching for purpose (and not entirely succeeding), whereas TMD is more about a young man finding passion and reason to support ideals he was beginning to hold.  It speaks to the liberation of the peoples than it does with personal soul-searching.  Guevara is moved by the people he encounters and learns from them that he can use his position of privilege to help them, whereas Kerouac seemed like he was more out to have a good time with friends.

Guevara also gave me something of a hard look at my own position of privilege.  Che was never one to hide his hatred of the United States and its imperial presence in Latin America, and much of his writings are very anti-capitalist and anti-America, save, however, for this one.   Guevara shows the reader his perspective of US presence in Latin America through the eyes of those it had displaced and marginalized through absentee ownership of farms and plantations through such corporations such as United Fruit.  It’s somewhat of a raw display, but reality often is.  North Americans (and much of western civilization) has often enjoyed the fruits of the working class’ labor at their expense.  It’s systemic oppression of this nature that led to the Cuban revolution, as well as revolts and coups in other Latin American countries.  However, what Che, who also comes from privilege, shows the reader is that one can use his position to help others, to inspire them and help them regain their humanity.

Again, I don’t always agree with Che, but at his heart was always the people, and he valued them above all else.  He never saw himself as a liberator, saying that “the people liberate themselves.”  He always favored solidarity over charity, and connection with the people over leaders setting themselves at a distance, all of which is evidenced in TMD.  I highly recommend this book.

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