The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes On A Latin American Journey
by Ernesto Che Guevara
Published by Ocean Press
175 pages, 2003
When 'I' Became "We"
Reviewed by Adrian Marks
"This is not a story of incredible heroism, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives that ran parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams."
So begins The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. The voice is that of Ernesto Che Guevara, 24-years-old as he began his trip, a medical student who set out for North America with his friend Alberto Granado on Granado's motorcycle from Argentina. Later Guevara would become a doctor. Later still a revolutionary and, with the revolution a success, he became a politician. In 1961 -- about a decade after his pivotal motorcycle trip -- he was made head of Cuba's newly established ministry of industry. Between the time he was murdered in Bolivia in 1967 and his remains were located in 1997 he became a hero. And somehow his very name evokes youth and revolution and rebellion, all on one sweet breath.
The Motorcycle Diaries go a long way to explaining why. Here we see the young Che, full of idealism and romance.
Yet afterwards I doubted whether driftwood has the right to say, "I win," when the tide throws it on to the beach it seeks. But that was later, and is of no interest to the present.
Almost any quote taken from early in the book would illustrate this spirit. Che was 24: the world was not only an oyster, it lay at his feet. And life stretched out endlessly, languidly before him.
The huge figure of a stag dashed like a quick breath across the stream and his body, silver by the light of the rising moon, disappeared into the undergrowth. This tremor of nature cut straight through our hearts. We walked slowly so as not to disturb the peace of the wild sanctuary with which we were now communing.
As his journey progresses, however, Guevara's voice seems to deepen, to darken, colored by what he witnesses in his travels. He is still poetic, but now he comments on what he sees, though still poetically, with a new awareness of the social and political ramifications of what's going on around him.
The mestizo curator was very knowledgeable with a breathtaking enthusiasm for the race whose blood flowed in his veins. He spoke to us of the splendid past and the present misery, of the urgent need to educate the Indians.... The semi-indigenous features of the curator, his eyes shining with enthusiasm and his faith in the future, constituted one more treasure of the museum, but a living museum, proof of a race still fighting for its identity.
As Eduardo Galeano writes about the book, "On this journey of journeys, solitude found solidarity. 'I' turned into 'we.'" In the preface to The Motorcycle Diaries, Che's daughter, Aleida Guevara March, agrees:
The young man who makes us smile at the beginning with his absurdities and his craziness, becomes before our eyes increasingly sensitive as he tells us about the complex indigenous world of Latin America, the poverty of its people and the exploitation to which they are submitted.
In short, Guevara leaves Argentina a boy on a lark and returns eight months later a man at the beginning of a mission.
This new edition of the book, published to coincide with the release of a film by Robert Redford and Walter Salles, is enhanced from the original 1993 publication. Included are Aleida's much expanded comments and 24 pages of previously unpublished photos taken by Che and his traveling companion on their journey. | January 2004
Adrian Marks is an author and journalist.