By the time he was killed in the jungles of Bolivia, where his body was displayed like a deposed Christ, Ernesto "Che" Guevara had become a synonym for revolution everywhere from Cuba to the barricades of Paris. This extraordinary biography peels aside the veil of the Guevara legend to reveal the charismatic, restless man behind it.
Drawing on archival materials from three continents and on interviews with Guevara's family and associates, Castaneda follows Che from his childhood in the Argentine middle class through the years of pilgrimage that turned him into a committed revolutionary. He examines Guevara's complex relationship with Fidel Castro, and analyzes the flaws of character that compelled him to leave Cuba and expend his energies, and ultimately his life, in quixotic adventures in the Congo and Bolivia. A masterpiece of scholarship, Companero is the definitive portrait of a figure who continues to fascinate and inspire the world over.
About the Author
Jorge G. Castañeda is the global distinguished professor of politics and Latin American studies at New York University. He was Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003. Castañeda has been a professor of political science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, and a visiting professor at Princeton University. He received his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from the University of Paris. He is a member of the board of Human Rights Watch and lives in New York and Mexico City. Castañeda is the author of Mañana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans, Ex Mex., Somos Muchos: Ideas para el Mañana and many more.
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Childhood, Youth, and Asthma in Argentina
Argentina before the Great Depression was not a bad country to be born and raised in--especially if, like the first son of Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna y Llosa, one belonged to a blue-blooded aristocracy. Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born on June 14, 1928, in Rosario--the third largest city in a country of 12.5 million inhabitants. On his father's side, the Guevara Lynch family had lived in Argentina for twelve generations: more than enough to fulfill the requirements of nobility in a land of immigrants, most washed up only recently on the shores of "God's country South." On his mother's side, there was also a long and distinguished lineage, as well as extensive property, which in Argentina meant money.
From his father Ernesto inherited Irish and Spanish blood. His great-grandfather, Patrick Lynch, had fled from England to Spain, and eventually to Argentina, assuming the governorship of Rio de la Plata in the second half of the eighteenth century. He even had Mexican-American parentage: Che's paternal grandmother, Ana Lynch, was born in California in 1868. Roberto Guevara, Che's paternal grandfather, was also originally from the United States, though only by chance: his parents had joined in the California Gold Rush of 1848, returning to the land of their birth a few years later.
Not only by birth were the Guevaras of old Argentine stock. The Guevara Lynch branch of the family was so closely identified with the history of the local aristocracy that Gaspar Lynch was one of the nineteenth-century founders of the Argentine Rural Society--a genuine board of directors for the country's landowning oligarchy. If Enrique Lynch was one of that oligarchy's mainstays toward the end of the nineteenth century, Ana Lynch, the only grandmother Che ever knew, was a liberal and iconoclast. She became a significant figure in his youth; his decision to study medicine rather than engineering was partly due to her illness and death.
On his mother's side, Guevara's landed roots went back to General Jose de la Serna e Hinojosa, the last Spanish viceroy of Peru, whose troops were defeated by Sucre in the historic battle of Ayacucho in 1820, when South America's independence was finally secured. A daughter of Juan Martin de la Serna y Edelmira Llosa, Celia was not yet twenty-one when she married the young former architecture student in 1927. Her parents had died years earlier: Don Juan shortly after her birth, according to one of his granddaughters, by throwing himself overboard at sea on discovering he had syphilis; and Edelmira soon afterward. Celia was raised by her older sister, Carmen de la Serna, who in 1928 married the Communist poet Cayetano Cordova Iturburu. They were both card-carrying members of the Argentine Communist Party; the couple's affiliation lasted fourteen years.
Celia's family "had lots of money," as her husband would admit unblushingly. Her father had inherited "a great fortune ... and several ranches. A cultivated man, very intelligent, he was active in the ranks of the Radical Party," participating in the "revolution of 1890." Though the family fortune was divided among seven children, it was initially large enough for all of them. The Guevara de la Serna family would live from Celia's rents and inheritance, much more than from the failed business ventures repeatedly launched by the head of the household. If Celia received, on her mother's side, a classical Catholic education at the School of the Sacred Heart, the freethinking, radical, leftist beliefs of her sister would make her into a singular figure: a socialist, anticlerical feminist. She held endless meetings in her own home during the many struggles led by Argentine women during the twenties and thirties, maintaining, both before and after her marriage, an identity of her own until her death in 1965.
This exceptional woman was the most important affective and intellectual figure in the life of her eldest son, at least until he met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955. Nobody--not his father, his wives, or children--would play as crucial a role for Che as did Celia, his mother. A woman who lived for twenty years under the threat and stigma of cancer; a militant who spent weeks in jail shortly before her death for being the mother of her son; a mother who raised five children virtually on her own--she had a profound influence on Che Guevara. Only Castro would have a similar impact on him, later, during a brief interlude in both their lives. Few things illustrate the glory and tragedy of Guevara's saga as aptly as his aching lament when in the Congo, that perpetual heart of darkness, he learned of his mother's death:
Personally, however, [Machado Ventura] brought me the saddest news of the war: in a telephone conversation with Buenos Aires he was told my mother was very ill, in a tone which made me suppose it was but a preparatory announcement.... I had to spend a month in this sad uncertainty, awaiting the results of something I could guess at but still hoping there was a mistake, until I received confirmation of my mother's death. She had wanted to see me shortly before my departure, perhaps feeling ill, but this was not possible as my trip was already far advanced. She did not receive the letter of farewell I left for my parents in Havana; it was to be delivered only in October, after my departure had been made public.
Unable to say good-bye, Che was also denied the chance to grieve in the full measure of his sorrow. The African revolution, merciless tropical diseases, and unending tribal conflicts prevented it. Celia died in Buenos Aires, expelled from the hospital of her choice and torn from her deathbed for having given birth to Che thirty-seven years earlier. He mourned her in the hills of Africa, driven from the successive countries he had adopted as his own. He himself would perish barely two years later: two deaths too closely related.
The Argentina that saw the birth of Ernesto (soon to be nicknamed Tete) was still in 1928 a dynamic country in full swing, blessed by an economic and even political prosperity which would soon fade. During the twenties it resembled the British domains populated by "white settlers," rather than the rest of Latin America. On the eve of World War I, its principal sociodemographic indicators made it more like Australia, Canada, or New Zealand than Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, or Mexico. The country had already received three times more direct foreign investment than Mexico or Brazil. The amount of railroad track per thousand inhabitants was three to ten times higher than that of its hemispheric neighbors. In 1913, the southern nation's per capita income was the thirteenth-largest in the world and slightly higher than that of France. The European conflagration and headlong growth of the twenties would not alter this ranking. Argentina's weak points--its meager industrialization, excessive foreign debt, highly vulnerable export sector--would soon quash the modernizing pretensions of its local elites. But at the time of his birth, Che Guevara's country still exuded a buoyant and legitimate self-confidence. It aspired to become part of the First World avant la lettre, and was unconcerned by the ominous economic and social signs already looming on the horizon.
The introduction in 1912 of secret, universal suffrage (for male Argentine citizens) led to the electoral victory, four years later, of the Radical Civic Union and its legendary champion, Hipolito Yrigoyen. He was reelected for a second time a few months after Che's birth in 1928, following the uninspired interregnum of Marcelo T. de Alvear. Socially minded, democratizing, Yrigoyenism continued to challenge and constrain the old oligarchical, ranching Argentina of the Rural Society. But it did not fulfill the huge expectations it had aroused in the country's emerging middle sectors and the new working class of Buenos Aires, an eclectic and unstable mixture of immigrants and second-generation Argentines from the interior. Pressure from the right, the disillusionment of the middle classes, and the effects of the Depression put an end to this democratic interval: in 1930 the military took power--the first coup in this century to overthrow a democratically elected Latin American government. In place of the almost blind, ancient Yrigoyen, the armed forces imposed the first in a long series of military rulers and fraudulent elections.
Ernesto was born in Rosario by accident. After their marriage in Buenos Aires a year earlier, his parents had left for Puerto Caraguatay in the Upper Parana, in the territory of Misiones. There, Ernesto's father planned to cultivate some 200 hectares sown with mate, or Argentine tea leaves, the "green gold" so abundant in that part of the country. When Celia was seven months pregnant they traveled to Rosario, the closest town, both for her to give birth and to study the possibility of buying a mate mill. The farming project and mate plantation soon collapsed, as would happen with all of Guevara Lynch's business ventures. But the other project prospered: Ernesto was born in Rosario, one month premature.
Soon after Che's birth, the family left the Misiones area, Guevara Lynch becoming a partner in a struggling shipbuilding firm in San Isidro, near Buenos Aires. This is where Ernesto's first asthma attack took place, on May 2, 1930, just weeks before his second birthday. According to Guevara Lynch, his wife (an excellent swimmer) often took the child to the Nautical Club at San Isidro, on the banks of the River Plate. The father leaves little doubt as to his wife's responsibility:
On a cold morning in the month of May, with a strong wind, my wife went swimming in the river with our son Ernesto. I arrived at the club to look for them and take them to lunch, and found the little boy shivering in his wet bathing suit. Celia was inexperienced and did not realize that the change in weather at that time of year could be dangerous.
In fact, the infant suffered his first pulmonary crisis--from pneumonia--forty days after birth, from which "he almost died," according to his aunt Ercilia Guevara Lynch. This early illness casts some doubt on the father's explanation; an earlier history of lung ailment preceded the cold. In any case, through June 1933 Ernestito's asthma attacks were an almost daily occurrence. They caused terrible anxiety for both parents, but especially Celia, who besides tending to the child was overburdened by guilt. To that, instilled by her husband over the river incident, she piled on hereditary factors, which at the time were only suspected, though they are now known to be the single most significant cause of asthma. Celia herself had suffered from this respiratory ailment as a child; the probabilities of one of her offspring contracting the disease were nearly one in three, and everything indicates that that is what occurred with Che. The early episodes of pneumonia and colds were only triggers for a high-risk candidate; they did not provoke Che's asthma.
The three years between the first appearance of the illness and its stabilization seem to have left a profound mark on parents and child alike; accounts by relatives, friends,.and the parents themselves are deeply moving. It was doubtless during this time that Celia built with her son a relationship infused with obsessiveness, guilt, and adoration. This bond soon translated into a home-based education, which would instill in Che Guevara a lifelong love of books and an insatiable intellectual curiosity.
The family wandered throughout Argentina for five years, seeking a site that would help, or at least not aggravate, the boy's condition. They finally found it in Alta Gracia, a summer resort town 40 kilometers from the city of Cordoba, at the foot of the Sierra Chica and almost 600 meters above sea level. A neat, clean, well-laid-out town of white middle-class Argentines, it catered to vacationers and the infirm, not unlike the mountain or hot-springs health spas of Western and Central Europe. The thin, dry air, which attracted tourists and tuberculosis patients, attenuated Tete's asthma attacks--though it did not eliminate or even space them to any significant degree. The illness gradually became more manageable, thanks to the better climate, medical care, the child's personality, and his mother's exceptional devotion.
Ernesto Guevara was raised, then, on this magic mountain at the foot of the Cordoba Sierra. His father built houses in the small town, while his mother devoted herself to raising and educating Ernesto, his two sisters, Celia and Ana Maria, and a brother, Roberto, born in those years; another brother, Juan Martin, would arrive in 1943. The Guevara home was an oasis of security in a country that was fast leaving its golden years behind. Like the rest of the world, Argentina was entering the hardships of the Depression and its unexpected political consequences. The Crash of 1929 not only ruined the mate hopes of Che's father, it also shattered in a few short years the myth of a peaceful and prosperous Argentina. The 1930 coup ushered in a long period of political instability. A collapse in prices and in international demand for the country's major exports brought about an unending economic slowdown, interrupted only by a brief boom in raw materials during the immediate postwar period. But the crisis also led to social mobilization, ideological polarization, and cultural changes affecting even Alta Gracia and the sheltered, enlightened elites of Cordoba.
Because its main exports--beef and wheat--were less vulnerable to European demand, Argentina was initially less affected by falling international prices than were other Latin American nations. Still, Argentina's export revenues fell by almost 50 percent between 1929 and 1932, a plunge ultimately as devastating and laden with consequence as it was for other countries in the region. It had a twofold effect on Argentine society. First, there was a steep rise in agricultural unemployment, as myriad foreclosures hit the pampas. Second, import restrictions due to a lack of hard currency and foreign credit promoted the development of domestic manufactures, in both consumer and some capital sectors. This in turn caused an accelerated growth in the Argentine working class. By 1947, 1.4 million immigrants from rural areas had relocated to Buenos Aires, and half a million workers found jobs in industry, doubling the ranks of labor in barely a decade. These migrants would become the famous cabecitas negras (literally, "dark heads"). A new working class was emerging, darker-skinned and less immigrant-based, and located more in domestic industry than in processing goods for export. The gap between the middle-class, educated, and traditional sectors on the one hand, and the new industrial class on the other, would be reflected ten years later in the distance between a Socialist, intellectual, and petit-bourgeois left and a populist, irreverent Peronism.
But other concerns were more important for Ernesto during those years. The habits of his personal and family life were becoming more clearly defined. The first was his parents' continual roving, now limited to the perimeter of Alta Gracia. According to Che's younger brother, after living six months in the Grutas Hotel in Alta Gracia, they drifted from Villa Chichita in 1933 to Villa Nydia, then to the Fuentes chalet in 1937, the Forte chalet, the Ripamonte and Doce chalets between that year and 1940, and, in 1940-41, back to Villa Nydia. Each time the lease ran out--a frequent occurrence--the family had to move. It would be far-fetched to attribute the roaming spirit of Che Guevara to this endless wandering by his family. But the constant comings and goings of his childhood years could not help but become a sort of second nature. From city to city until the age of five, and house to house until he turned fifteen: the Guevaras' norm was movement. It also served to spice an otherwise monotonous existence, and to rekindle the illusion of starting anew and overcoming the family tensions--affective and financial--which were hardly lacking in the growing household of Ernesto and Celia.
It was during this period that the relationship between Celia and Tete became central to both their lives. It extended far beyond the intensity and closeness of Ernestito's link with his father, or that of the other children with their mother. Che's illness largely explains this: there is nothing like a mother's anguish and guilt to create in her a boundless devotion to her child. The symbiosis between Celia and her son, which would nourish their correspondence, their emotional bond, and their very lives for more than thirty years, began during that placid time in Cordoba when Ernesto learned, on his mother's lap, to read and write, to see her and, above all, be seen by her. Celia's gaze distinguished and "constituted" him to such an extent that those who knew Ernesto in his youth were astonished by the physical contrast between him and his siblings. It was notorious long before the eldest son became famous, inevitably casting a shadow over the other members of the family. Why was there such a difference? One may assume that it derived largely from Ernesto's relationship with his mother; the other children probably received a simpler kind of maternal affection.
Another distinctive sign became apparent in this prelude to adolescence: a certain definition, and confirmation, of the head of the household's role in the family. Guevara Lynch was simultaneously a bon vivant, a marvelous friend to his children, a mediocre provider, and a distant father. He did devote hours to his son, swimming, playing golf, and talking with him. But he remained aloof and remote the rest of the time, often indifferent to the needs of his child and family. While the mother served as teacher, household organizer, and nurse, Guevara Lynch was sporadically building houses in partnership with his brother and lingering at the Sierras Hotel, a haven of rest and relaxation for the wealthy society of Alta Gracia.
His illness continued to afflict Ernestito, preventing him from having a "normal" primary education. Celia took up the slack:
I taught my son his first letters, but Ernesto was unable to go to school because of his asthma. He only attended the second and third grades on a regular basis; the fifth and sixth grades, he attended as much as possible. His siblings copied the schoolwork and he studied at home.
Ernesto's father played a central role, however, in transmitting to the asthmatic child a voracious love of sports and exercise, and the conviction that through willpower alone he could overcome the limitations and hardships imposed by his illness. Both Ernesto's father and mother were athletic; they loved nature and the countryside, and instilled that inclination in their son. Since any enjoyment of exercise or the outdoors implied enormous effort for him, Ernesto developed uncommon willpower from his earliest years. It was Che's parents who discovered the only possible remedy for what became a chronic affliction. They quickly concluded that the only reasonable solution for their son's bronchial asthma was to continue medicating him and to strengthen him through tonics and swimming, climbing hills, and horseback riding.
Ernesto's fierce determination to overcome his physical shortcomings was thus a major factor in the development of his personality from early years. Another was his easy contact with a broad range of people. The children's circle was varied and gregarious; they were in constant touch with friends from different social classes, including caddies from the Alta Gracia golf club, serving boys from hotels, the children of construction workers from the sites run by Ernesto's father, and poor families from the emerging slums near the family's rented villas. Some of Che's little friends were middle-class, others of low income; some were white like him and his siblings, others, dark-skinned morochos like Rosendo Zacarias, who sold candy in the streets of Alta Gracia. Half a century later, Zacarias still remembers (perhaps aided by the mythical idea that "Che was a perfect child, without any defect") how they all played together without distinctions or hierarchy, and how easily Ernesto related to people from different social and cultural milieux.
The asthmatic boy also spent long hours in bed, developing an intense love of books and literature. He devoured the children's classics of the time: the adventure novels of Dumas pere, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Jules Verne, and Emilio Salgari. But he also explored Cervantes and Anatole France, Pablo Neruda and Horacio Quiroga, and the Spanish poets Machado and Garcia Lorca. Both his parents transmitted to him their passion for reading during this period of home education: Ernesto Guevara Lynch his penchant for adventure novels, and Celia for poetry and the French language.
At school, Ernesto was a good student but nothing more, one of his teachers recalls; as intelligent as his younger sisters, but not as hardworking. Perhaps the greatest impact of the two schools he attended in Alta Gracia had to do with the fact of receiving a public education during the waning years of an oligarchical Argentina.
According to his teacher Elba Rossi Oviedo Zelaya, Ernesto had two different family links to education: one through Celia, ever present and attentive to her son's instruction, and the other, much more lax, through his father. In the words of Che's teacher,
I only knew the mother. She was really very democratic, a lady who didn't mind picking up any child and taking him home, and helping the school; she had a lovely temperament.... She came every day and to all the parents meetings, with all her kids in the little car and then other kids joining in. The father was a very distinguished man who spent a lot of time at the Sierras Hotel because he came from a distinguished family. I might have seen him once by chance; he didn't speak with the teachers. I only knew he went a lot to the Sierras because at that time the Sierras was the best hotel in Alta Gracia. With her I talked many times, about school and other things. I never met him at the school, though I might have seen him on some occasion; someone might have said, that's Sr. Guevara.
The fact that Ernesto attended public school was typical, yet highly significant. Although Argentine society was still relatively homogeneous, its growing diversity was already coming into conflict with the standardizing pressures of public, lay, compulsory education. When his asthma kept Ernesto at home, his mother actually received notices from the truant officer, inquiring as to the reasons for his absence; the compulsory character of primary education was not just a matter of principle but a strictly enforced reality. The two schools Che attended in Alta Gracia received pupils from the destitute homes on the city outskirts, poor infants from el campo, or else urban morochos--either way, children from modest families, for whom this was the first generation going to school. The enormous difference between Argentina and the rest of Latin America in those years (with the exception of Uruguay and possibly Chile), lay precisely in the existence of public education. Established before universal suffrage, it was, together with military conscription, the equalizing institution par excellence. The immense gap between the adult Che and many of his companions from Cuba and the rest of Latin America, in his relations with different classes, races, ethnic groups, and educational levels, stemmed from this early experience of equality. Che's experience was not at all typical in a continent whose elites rarely encounter people different from themselves.
However, to strive for equality is not the same as achieving it. The brutal emergence in the thirties of new working classes--including second-generation immigrants and laborers from the old agricultural sector of gauchos and cattle ranches--did not spare any level of Argentine society. Ernesto's schools were attended by poor children of Italian, Spanish, and rural origins; thanks to his teachers and the exceptional cultural heritage he received from Celia, Che was blessed with unique and obvious opportunities for confronting the contours of equality. But these schools also bestowed upon him, paradoxically, the distinction of being a precocious primus inter pares. The culture and (relative) prosperity of his parents, as well as the self-confidence generated by a stable if not peaceful home, provided Ernesto with the privilege of standing out from a very young age. He was a ringleader at school and among his friends. The early vocation for leadership that many of Che's admirers have traced back to his childhood may indeed have stemmed from innate talents--but it also involved his privileged social position.
Last but not least, these languid years in Alta Gracia also saw Ernesto's incipient politicization. The Spanish Civil War had a major impact on him, as it did on millions of young people and adults throughout the world. His interest in the triumphs and tragedies of Madrid, Teruel, and Guernica did not center on the conflict's ideological, international, or even political aspects. Rather, as befitted a boy between the ages of eight and eleven, he was inspired by its military and heroic aspects. In 1937, he hung a map of Spain on the wall of his room, using it to follow the movements of the Republican and Francoist forces. He also built a miniature battlefield in the garden, complete with trenches and mountains.
In 1937, Ernesto's uncle, the poet Cayetano Cordova Iturburu, left for Spain. A journalist and committed member of Argentina's Communist Party, Cordova was hired as a foreign correspondent. Aunt Carmen and the two children went to live at the Guevara home in Alta Gracia during his absence. So all the dispatches, notes, and articles that Cordova Iturburu sent from the front passed through the villa in Alta Gracia. The arrival of news from overseas was a major event. The poet-turned-reporter occasionally sent Spanish books and magazines. This continual stream of detailed information flowed straight into the imagination of the boy, where it would remain.
Another important factor in Che's growing politicization was the subsequent arrival in Cordoba and then Alta Gracia of several refugee families fleeing from Spain. The one closest to the Guevaras was that of the physician Juan Gonzalez Aguilar, who had previously dispatched his wife and children to Buenos Aires and then Alta Gracia. Paco, Juan, and Pepe, the three sons of the Gonzalez Aguilar family, enrolled at the same school in Cordoba that Che began attending while still living in Alta Gracia. For a year, they often traveled together the thirty-five kilometers to school. As the Republican front collapsed, Gonzalez Aguilar fled to Argentina, joining his family in Alta Gracia.
The friendship between the two families would last for decades. The stories told by the Gonzalez Aguilars and other refugees like General Jurado and the composer Manuel de Falla would help inspire in Ernesto a deep sympathy toward the Republican cause. The Spanish Civil War--perhaps the last civil conflict until the Cuban Revolution to be broadly, almost unanimously, perceived as a battle between good and evil--was the decisive political event in Che's childhood and adolescence. Nothing else in those years would mark him as profoundly as the Loyalist struggle and defeat: not the French Popular Front or Mexico's oil expropriation, not Roosevelt's New Deal or the Argentine coup of 1943, nor even the rise of Peron on October 17, 1945, would have such an impact on the young Guevara.
Ernesto's parents also transmitted their own political views to him. After the Republican defeat in Spain, the father of the eleven-year-old boy founded a local section of Accion Argentina and enrolled him in its youth section. A typical antifascist organization, Accion Argentina did a bit of everything during those years. It organized meetings, collected funds for the Allies, opposed Nazi penetration in Argentina, uncovered cases of infiltration by former crew members of the German battleship Graf Spee (sunk in Montevideo Bay in 1940), and disseminated information about Allied advances during the war. As Guevara Lynch recalls, "every time an event was organized by Accion Argentina or we had a serious investigation to do, Ernesto went with me."
The Spanish war coincided with the emergence in Argentina of a nationalistic, Catholic, and virtually fascist right. The nation's intellectuals--especially those with radical, socialist, or communist sympathies and aristocratic, Italian, or Spanish roots--rallied against it, denouncing all forms of xenophobia and conservatism. They were particularly opposed to the views expressed by writers like Leopoldo Lugones, or publications like Crisol (Crucible), La Bandera Argentina (The Argentine Flag), and La Voz Nacionalista (The Nationalist Voice), as well as to their political expression among mid-level army officers. Argentine nationalism during the thirties embraced anti-Semitism, racism and eugenics, fascism, and Nazism. It quite naturally sided with Franco when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Xenophobia was especially dear to it, given the emergence of a new working class from the interior made up of "blacks" or "redskins." That this nationalism also had its "social" and "anti-imperialist" aspects, its "developmentalist" components, did not prevent the traditional Argentine left from regarding it with dread--and justifiably so.
The final outcome of these trends confounded all expectations. The advent of Peron in 1945 would leave the nationalists unsatisfied, and the left disoriented and bereft of popular support. The growth of that conservative, Catholic nationalism provides an at least partial, and tentative, answer to the riddle of Argentina's left and Che's attitude toward the chief political event of his youth: Peron's rise to power. As we shall see, Ernesto followed in his parents' footsteps. To the extent that he cared at all, his youthful anti-Peronism was as visceral as his family's, as wholehearted as that of his fellow university students, and as unrealistic as that of the left in general. Che would complete the circle only twenty years later, when he became friends with Peron's representatives in Havana, especially John William Cooke. He even served as Peron's contact with Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella, requesting his help to arrange a meeting between Peron and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Table of Contents
|Chapter 1 Childhood, Youth, and Asthma in Argentina||3|
|Chapter 2 Years of Love and Indifference in Buenos Aires:|
|Medical School, Peron, and Chichina||25|
|Chapter 3 First Blood: Navigating Is Necessary, Living Is Not||44|
|Chapter 4 Under Fire with Fidel||78|
|Chapter 5 Our Man in Havana||119|
|Chapter 6 The "Brain of the Revolution";|
|the Scion of the Soviet Union||160|
|Chapter 7 "Socialism Must Live,|
|It Isn't Worth Dying Beautifully."||196|
|Chapter 8 With Fidel, Neither Marriage Nor Divorce||235|
|Chapter 9 Che Guevara's Heart of Darkness||276|
|Chapter 10 Betrayed by Whom in Bolivia?||326|
|Chapter 11 Death and Resurrection||391|
|16 pages of photographs will be found||following page 268|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you want to read the most candid and un-romantasized life of Che Guevara this is your book. It can turn the heartiest of revolutionaries into an nahilist as it keeps you up at night trying to redifine your the world around you. For some it will simply confirm that you cannot place anyone on a pedeal-stool... every man defines its on weekness.
Good introductory biography to one of the most iconic figures of the Revolution. Go beyond the poster boy image to the real, hard, Che.
Seeing the recent movie ¿The Motorcycle Diaries¿ brought me to read this biography of Che Guevara. I highly recommend the film, and with reservations recommend Castaneda¿s biography of Che. At the time, I did little research into which Che biography would be ¿best¿ so I can not reference other Che biographies. I found this in many passages a tiring read, especially in the middle section, which covers Che¿s career as Cuba¿s lead economic bureaucrat. The book does not idealize Che although I suspect the author admires at least many of Che¿s humanitarian beliefs. Castendeda is excellent at pointing out a lot not to like about Che and his activities. It portrays Che as an enigma, as a very intuitive mind with an idealists somewhat naive view of human nature. Che wanted a better world for the underclass, and yet Che determines to do build this better world not by the practice of medicine, he was a doctor, but by insisting that only by violent revolution can it be achieved. Castandeda begins with a great review of Che¿s early life, his asthma (he fought being a constant prisoner to the constraints of the decease), and influence of his mother, and ends with a very interesting interpretation of why he has become a cultural icon. He follows Che on a path to what Castaneda calls his ¿Christ like¿ status in death. He places Che in context of the history of the times and within each setting, what Argentina was like when he grew up, Cuba when he fought by Castro¿s side, the later the 'failures' in the Congo and Bolivia. I was rather surprised to find myself seeing Che as a character in Woody Allen¿s ¿Bananas¿ film as I read of Che¿s actual efforts to export revolution to the Congo and Bolivia. He seemed to assume a lot and his band of brothers in both the Congo and Bolivia was unbelievably small. For all Che¿s reading, apparent high IQ, he seems to have had no sense of what each of these country¿s underclass¿s and cultures wanted, needed, or would accept. He made the false assumption they would take up arms in unity. This Castaneda points out was not the case, and I kept seeing that the U.S. view of a monolithic communist conspiracy was indeed a myth as Che could not even pull together the China or Soviet factions to support his revolutionary efforts. I hate to claim a book is over detailed, because I did find many of the extensive footnotes of interest, and helpful. But this is really a scholarly work and as such lacks much in the way of entertaining writing. I'm glad I read the book, and recommend it to those interested in the subject.
This work by Castaneda is particularly interesting as it outlines and explains Che Guevara's late political/philosophical development. He wasn't a Communist prodigy nurtured for grand social revolution at all. Understanding Guevara's early years, as well as his communist metamorphosis in in Guatemala, is essential, if one hopes to get past the romanticized imagery of contemporary red-and-black t-shirts. However, the chapters on Guevara's exploits in Africa are quite belabored, much like the guerilla fighter's own time there. And the concluding chapter is such a stretch from the rest of the level-headed work, that upon finishing, you have to pull the spoon out from the back of your throat.
This is a book that makes Che a human after all. I can understand a little why this book wasn't all that well recieved by some people. But even this slant on the story of one of the most famous guerillas around made me admire him more. It gives some additional understanding as to why Che did what he did. It was a good read too. Don't take my word for it, find out for yourself and make your own decision.