on 6 September 2006
I thought the 2004 film "Diarios de Motocicleta" was beautiful, with enthralling performances from Gael Garcia Bernal and sumptuous South American scenery. However the film has been accused of glorifying "El Che" and neglecting to feature the darker elements to his soul, rendering Guevara a squeaky-clean paragon of charity.
The book, on the other hand (on which the film was based) seems to convey many facets of Guevara's character, from a genuine care for the welfare of the peasants he encounters, to a cheeky "laddishness" including a "bad case of the runs" which the young Guevara directs onto his host's sun dried peaches! Finally we witness the hardening of Guevara's character into a rather bloodthirsty revolutionary intent on seeking justice for the downtrodden of South America.
Although the book is not short of adventure, to read this book merely as a travel journal would diminish some of its most poignant features. Through the impact of each experience we can chart the shaping of Ernesto Guevara into the figure he became. The book also offers a mystical perspective on some of South America's secrets including its silent mountains and lakes and the vibrancy of the people, unfortunately often combined with desperate poverty.
on 17 August 2002
In the brief preamble to his 'The Motorcycle Diaries', Che Guevara sets us straight by telling us to read the work as a record of a journey undertaken by the man he "once was". This statement is, in fact, a direct reference to the author's method of working, which was to make extensive notes whilst travelling and then to transcribe and polish the narrative up to a year later. Forewarned is forearmed, however, and 'The Motorcycle Diaries' is possibly not a book for aficionados of the iconoclastic Che, the one that has adorned countless posters and T-shirts since his untimely death trying to spark off a new Vietnam in Bolivia in 1967.
In 'The Motorcycle Diaries' we can still find Che the adventurer and , moreover, there is clear evidence of a heart sensitive to the plight of the poor guasos (Chilean peasants) and other indigenous South American Indians encountered along the way. There are also signs that Che was beginning to awaken politically. (See, for example, his references to the material and cultural differences between the Chilean copper mine foremen - "blond and efficient, insolent administrators. ..the Yankee masters" - and the poor native miners . ) However, it is a far lighter , younger soul that we get in this work, one not yet fully locked-into revolutionary idealism.
'The Motorcycle Diaries' is actually a blow by blow account of the journey Che and Alberto Granado undertook across five Latin America countries between 1951-52. The journey occurred during an extended sabbatical from Che's medical studies at the University of Buenos Aires. (He did, in fact, manage to complete the six year course to become a doctor of medicine at this institution in just three years).
The preferred mode of travel for Che and Alberto's adventure was a Norton 500cc motorcycle, nicknamed La Poderosa II ( literally, the Powerful One II). This is, of course, where the title of the book comes from. Actually, though, La Poderosa II breaks down very early into the journey. A fact that, everything considered, proves to be something of a mixed blessing since, following this, the pair have to make their way by doing odd jobs and hitching rides with strangers and generally having a far richer experience.
In parts 'The Motorcycle Diaries' reads bawdy, irreverent and even laddish. In Chile, for example, Che manages to get roaring drunk (several times) and make an ill received pass at a mechanic's "randy" wife. Also, in the same country, Che wakes in the middle of the night and, mistaking his hosts' beloved pet Alsation for a vicious Chilean Puma, shoots the poor creature dead. Additionally, Che and Alberto win many friends and fans among the indigenous Indians by showing off their footballing prowess on the pampas. Che's favourite position, by the way, was to keep goal.
The book does contain, though, some extremely fluent and interesting passages, such as, for example, the one that describes a visit by train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. This particular essay was initially published in Panama in December 1953. On the way to Machu Picchu Che notes, with a medical student's concern, how the native Indian women show little deference for personal hygiene, wiping themselves on their skirts after defecating. Upon arrival he ruminates about the discovery of Machu Picchu by the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham and, furthermore, sees the ancient Inca ruins as a place of "pure expression'", a monument to a once great people of the Americas. The fallen walls are, he says, full of 'evocative treasures' beyond the sensitivity and understanding of the Imperialist Yankee tourist.
Although, to reiterate, 'The Motorcycle Diaries' is possibly not, in my opinion, a book for those looking directly for the revolutionary hero of the Sierra Maestra (the battle hardened, politically mature and moralistic centred Che that marched with Castro triumphant through Havana in 1959 does, in fact, seem a million miles away at times from the still evolving soul revealed in this journal), I would still thoroughly recommend the book to a wide audience. 'The Motorcycle Diaries' is sometimes funny, sometimes coarse, yet often surprisingly insightful and lyrical. Read it as the ribald travel exploits of two young amigos into the heartlands of Latin America during the early 1950s, or read it for its moments of aesthetic fluency. On the back of this work, Che Guevara could always, I believe, have found a job as a travel writer of some note if other more cruel and glorious destinies had not called.
on 11 August 2009
A very important book for people who want to know about the real 'Che', not the one who is idolised on T-shirts.
Even if he wasn't famous, this would still be enjoyable... He was a complex character, who cared deeply about the poor of the world, but in the book he didn't mind committing petty thievery, and wasn't embarrasse about some attempts he made with married women. He was very youthful, full of life, very vivacious. It's a short book and a great one.
on 7 March 2016
Although called the motorcycle diaries, the author and his companion also travel round 1950s Latin America by horse, bus, raft and steamboats, as well as hitching lifts on lorries and cars and traveling on foot.
This was a surprisingly short, but interesting travelogue in which arguably the world’s most iconic revolutionary’s feelings for the poor and society’s underdogs begin to be formulated, along with his thoughts and desires for a more equal and united continent.
Packed with colour, characters and pointed cultural opinions and observations on tourism, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I found this volume to be a bit of a mixed bag. Ostensibly the diaries of 'Che' Guevara when he was a young medical student, travelling through South America with his friend on a motorcycle, it has clearly been well edited and is full of gaps. Guevara admits this in the introduction, that he took notes at the time and is rewriting the entries years later.
For me this leads to a peculiar hybrid. Although he has not shied away from the fact that this was largely a drunken spree where he and his friend begged, borrowed, lied and occasionally stole their way through nine months of travelling, which does lend it the air of the student hi jinks it clearly was, there is also an uneasy balance with the later more revolutionary Che, with his talk of a Pan Latin America, his encounters with the dirt poor and oppressed natives etc.
One minute we have the fact that they have conned some poor lorry driver into paying for their drinks all night, or exaggerated their medical qualifications to get free bed and board in a hospital, and the next he is discussing the social divide. He claims that it is this journey that changed him from the reasonably happy go lucky, privileged medical student that he was and opened his eyes to become the revolutionary famed in history. It may be so, but this book doesn't really show that transformation to me.
I don't have an argument about the fact that this happened, or that these two aspects of a person can co-exist side by side, it's just that I found them uneasy bedfellows in such a short and clearly incomplete volume. Five countries and nine months of travelling are crammed into 160 pages of text and as such I found it quite a frustrating read with a lot of 'make do and mend' moments.
on 3 March 2005
Funny how they're only on a bike for the first few weeks then it dies! They then travel by boat, raft, truck, bus... all on very little money.
Great travelogue, real budget travelling, good descriptively except boring bits about churches, but then that is always difficult. Not incredibly gripping but interesting, and I didn't know anything about him before I read it (and I haven't seen the film). He makes the politics of the countries interesting even when you don't know anything about it.
There's a good introduction which explains briefly who he was and what happened to him in his political career. The map of their journey could be better. There are quite a few photos taken by the boys themselves and this is very helpful. It's hard to imagine places like Macchu Picchu without them.