A welcome trove of fresh biographical material about a revolutionary who cast a gargantuan shadow over the 20th century.
First published in Britain in 2007, Toledo’s translation is culled from two memoirs written by Guevara’s adoring father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch. Although rife with hagiography, the volume still paints a vivid portrait of the Argentine medical student who helped topple the Batista regime in Cuba. The first half is mostly in the voice of Guevara Lynch, who died in 1987, and is somewhat hit and miss. His descriptions of the family’s tense monitoring from afar of Che’s surprising (to them) involvement in the Cuban Revolution are dramatic. But that section and a lengthy account of Che’s childhood in Argentina are hindered by chest-swelling paternal pride and frequently flat prose. The real gold comes in Che’s voice, heard in an intelligently edited series of journal entries and letters that comprise the bulk of the book. Discovered five years after his death in the basement of the Buenos Aires apartment building where his family lived, the journal entries describe his solo 1950 motorcycle trip through northern Argentina; they make a colorful travelogue and a nice complement to the better-known account of his 1952 odyssey across South America. Che’s correspondence with his extended family brings him even more alive. Written as he traveled north to Central America, the letters create a strong picture of his powerfully restless intellect, casually warm humor and enduring wanderlust. Che’s interests were impressively wide-ranging, from archaeology to allergy research, and his correspondence demonstrates a deep commitment to each of them. The letters’ joshing tone doesn’t obscure his growing commitment to revolution, particularly after personally witnessing the brutal U.S.-sponsored coup in Guatemala.
The Che shown here seems not just a man of history, but somebody it would have been great to know.