Kirkus Reviews QR Code
COMPANERO by Jorge G. Castañeda

COMPANERO

The Life and Death of Che Guevara

By Jorge G. Castañeda

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44034-8
Publisher: Knopf

 In the second Guevara biography this year (after John Lee Anderson's Che Guevara, p. 343), chronicler of the Latin American left Casta§eda (Political Science/New York Univ.) distinguishes himself from other biographers by stripping Guevara of myths while bowing to his role as the principal icon of the '60s. Despite the left leanings of his grandmother and mother, Guevara developed his political views slowly as an outgrowth of his sense of outrage at the conditions and treatment of the poor he witnessed throughout the region. Although disgusted with the US- backed ouster of Guatemalan reformist Arbenz, it was only after Guevara met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955 that his bookish attraction to Marxist-Leninism (and his preference for the Soviet Union over the US as a model of political development) gave way to a revolutionary commitment. Once he was entrenched in Castro's inner circle, Guevara's sympathies with the USSR rose and fell with exactly the opposite timing of Castro's. Casta§eda notes that in battle, Guevara's impulsive strategic decisions required the collaboration of a highly organized commander such as Castro. Without him, Guevara's extreme egalitarianism, revolutionary zeal, and strong will proved insufficient for repeated victory. As this became clear, Casta§eda suggests, Castro opted against a rescue mission for the ailing revolutionary in Bolivia, as Guevara had become more useful as a martyr than as a fighter. Finally, the author dismisses the popular myth that Guevara went down with his guns blazing--he was executed by Bolivian authorities. Along the way, Casta§eda presents some interesting, if quirky, theories on Guevara's psychological development. For example, he postulates that asthma played a key role in the revolutionary's predilection for armed struggle: Combat produces adrenaline, providing natural relief from asthma, while the deliberation of ambiguities brought on attacks. A solid yet easy to read account, with ample footnotes to satisfy serious readers. (16 pages photos, not seen)