CHE GUEVARA by Daniel James


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James is the author of Cuba: The First Soviet Satellite in the Americas (1961) and an introduction to Guevara's Bolivian diaries which he elaborates in this forensic biography. Great weight is given to Guevara's decayed-aristocratic forebears, his mother, his asthma and his two wives, also an early affair with ""a rich patrician"" during which though sloppy he ""observed the rules of personal hygiene."" After affirming the importance of Che's role as chief architect of Cuban Communism, his mismanagement as economic minister, and his defeat as infighter against the Old Guard, the book bypasses the issues involved and goes on to retell at rather prurient length an unsympathetic version of the Bolivian adventure. Here James stresses the alleged Castro-Guevara rivalry; makes the by now obvious point that the campaign was ""a textbook example of what to avoid,"" and contends that Guevara ""chose to die"" rather than live with defeat. The discussion of his various departures from Marxist-Leninist thought is suggestive if simplistic. But the effort to deromanticize Che becomes self-defeatingly snide disparagement. Given this attitude it is just as well that James sometimes fails to pursue his more striking facts (as a medical student, Guevara wanted to work With lepers) and comments (""happiest when casting himself in the role of political virgin,"" i.e. innocent of party commitments). Even apart from persistent factual problems like the alleged betrayal by Tania, the subject awaits a more sophisticated treatment of what James, after Guevara himself, calls the latter's ""quixoticism."" While specialists will find the book impermanent and badly documented, not to say unreliable, it should attract a sizable general audience, pre-empting the Payne-domain.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1969
Publisher: Stein & Day