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BACK ON THE ROAD by Ernesto “Che” Guevara


A Journey to Latin America

by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, translated by Patrick Camiller

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-8021-3942-6
Publisher: Grove

A fleeting, impressionistic record from Guevara’s travels in Latin America from 1953 to 1956.

The newly minted, 25-year-old doctor took to the road in late 1953, traveling by boat, train, truck, horse, and foot from Argentina to Mexico. Recounted here is a kaleidoscopic narrative of travels in which he absorbs his surroundings like a sponge: Much of this, in other words, is faithful to everyday travel: “another day with neither troubles nor glory,” “several days have passed without anything to change this useless life,” “otherwise I’m just waiting to see what happens.” What emerges—slowly, often grindingly—are slices of life seen with his own eyes: what it’s like to be inside “the dark unsettling atmosphere” of a wolfram mine; being stirred by pre-Columbian ruins; taking the pulse, at times the barely audible pulse, of village life; spending time at a leprosarium; engaging with the many characters along the way. By far the most fleshed-out material comes in letters home, where Guevara gives vent to his feelings about Perón and other political figures, and provides long descriptions of Mayan cities, and, most fertile of all, explains his reading of the Guatemalan coup against Arbenz, those “bitter hours” sponsored by the United Fruit Company, which he happened to be part of, passing through at the time. He comes across as a progressive free-thinker, slowly ripening, until: “Previously I devoted myself for better or worse to medicine, and spent my spare time informally studying Saint Karl. The new stage of my life requires me to change the order.” The reason for this is an encounter in Mexico City: “I met Fidel Castro. . . . I think we hit if off well.” True enough.

An exploratory glimpse into the formation of a man who was to have a large impact on international events in the years to come. (Photographs, not seen)