Che: The Life, Death,
and Afterlife of a Revolutionary is a collection of works edited by Joseph
Hart that summarizes Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s through writings from a diverse
array of authors. Through friends,
biographers, journalists, and Che’s own diaries Hart attempts to paint the
portrait of Ernesto Guevara, both as a person, and as the legend he has become.
It is primarily Guevara’s diaries and letters that are used to describe the
beginning stages of his life in which he travels around South America and up to
Guatemala. His transition from Ernesto Guevara to the
revolutionary “Che” is described in pieces by his friends, as he is radicalized
by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) coup in Guatemala and joins a group of Cuban’s intent on
Dictatorship. His triumph as a guerrilla
warrior is conveyed through his own manuscript on the subject, as well as an
excellent piece by Paco Ignacio Taibo II on his most famous battle for the
Cuban city of Santa Clara. It is chapters from his biographer, Jon Lee
Anderson, that make up the bulk of the account of Che’s life in Cuba as a high
level government official. His guerrilla
expeditions in the Congo and
are conveyed again through his diaries.
His death, and his subsequent influence is covered primarily by various
journalists. Together the accounts, if
not complete, at least paint an interesting portrait of Che, as well
highlighting some of the more important works on the revolutionary.
The collection of works does a respectable job of portraying
Guevara as a person, but lacks a great deal in portraying Guevara as an
idealist. It is Guevara’s ideals that
inspired so many, and failing to give them adequate space in the book is a
great disservice to the man. Guevara’s
words are present only through his diaries, which are usually only a recounting
of happenings, and letters, which are a bit more philosophical but still
limited by daily occurrences. The best
pieces are by other people, but their words are essentially a filtered Guevara,
clouded by the extreme perceptions which this man inspires. These perceptions fall into basically three
categories, the continuing suffering of Latin American people even after
Guevara, admiration for his ideals but disagreement with their practicality,
and almost holy portrayals of (Saint) Guevara.
Hart also relies too heavily on Guevara’s biographers to tell his story,
for that kind of recitation readers might as well go out and buy the
Most disturbing is the publisher’s note at the beginning of
the book: “Aleida March, denied permission to reprint Che’s essay on political
sovereignty and economic independence, and peremptorily threatened us with
‘legal proceedings.’ Noble Comrades! Those words do not belong to you. History will not absolve you; it will forget
you.” To show such contempt for
Guevara’s wife, arguably the closest and most devoted person to the man and his
image, seriously undermines the book as a tribute to Che. Besides, what is to be expected of a book
that attempts to make money off the works of others, which is entirely
conditional upon the owners of those works?
Joseph Hart also does a pretty poor job of editing as I was able to
detect numerous obvious errors in the book, in which dates were written wrong,
or Spanish words were misspelled.
Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Márquez said “it would take
me a thousand years and a million pages to write
biography.” When Joseph Hart assumed he
could take on the task that a literary genius dared not, he set himself up for
both failure and criticism. The least he
could do is make sure that there are no typos.