A motorcycle trip in 1952 marked a turning point for Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna, a medical student returning from a journey into poverty and oppression with a vision of guerilla-style change and a new name, Che Guevara. Going on to help overthrow the Cuban government, align himself with Castro, and become elevated to martyred hero status when he was executed in Bolivia in 1967, Guevara's likeness is now commercialized and captured on T-shirts, castanets, and watches.
New York writer Patrick Symmes embarks on motorcycle tracing Guevara's route through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Cuba, seeking insight into what Guevara experienced and what his political movement wrought. Meeting with those who knew the young Che--among them a lover, a leper, and his motorcycle traveling cohort--proves interesting enough, though rarely insightful since some were children at the time, some are confused, and others refuse to talk openly. More revealing are Symmes's travels on his bike, nicknamed La Cucaracha. He winds through both Buenos Aires' high society and Peruvian poverty, finding a fragmented country where revolutions have brought mountain peasants fleeing to shanty towns, and where blind idealism coexists with blatant denouncement of the violent tactics used by Cuban Communists, even by Che's most respected soldiers. Beautifully written, the stories that unfold here reflect the complex contradiction that endures in Latin America three long decades after Ernesto "Che" Guevara's death. --Melissa Rossi
From Publishers Weekly
In 1952, a 17-year-old, prerevolutionary Che Guevara lit out with a friend on a motorcycle trip through Latin America. It was, as he wrote in his Motorcycle Diaries, a journey that would shape his attitudes toward politics, people and revolutions. Symmes, a freelance travel writer, traversed the same route in 1996, with entertaining and illuminating results. Fluidly moving between the past and the present, he tosses out observations about Che's expedition while chronicling his own adventures. In Argentina, Symmes encounters a defensive German who insists he is not a Nazi; in Chile he visits a utopian settlement founded by a wealthy and radical environmentalist; in Peru he visits a leper colony, the same one Che visited in 1952. Refreshingly, Symmes avoids digressions of self-discovery, instead letting his book serve as a primer for recent Latin American history and his own take on the region. Symmes's prose, like the Latin America he writes about, is spotted with gems. He says pointedly, "The funny thing about a dictatorship: it was great for culture. If there was one sure way Pinochet could support poetry, it was by staging a military coup." Unsentimental and funny, this book combines the spiritedness of a gonzo journalist with a serious reporter's sense of purpose. First serial rights to Talk magazine. (Feb.)
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