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Posts Tagged ‘Ernesto Guevara’

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 30, 2014


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 11/02/2013

Publisher – HarperCollins; Year of Publication – 2003; Pages – 165; Cost at the time of purchase – 295

In 1952, a medical student by the name of Ernesto set out with his friend Alberto on a motorbike for a trek across South America. Starting from Argentina, the intrepid bikers travelled across the Patagonia plateau and Andes Mountains through Chile. From there they traversed through the Atacama desert travelling through the ancient Incan lands of Machu Picchu and later the Amazon River Basin covering Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama.

But all throughout they treated leper patients forming close associations with the poor and the destitute in all the places they went. They, Guevara in particular, were pushed by the oppression of the people, especially in face of their relative economic prosperity back home. By the end of the long journey, the young medical student had become in his mind a revolutionary.

When you look up the meaning for revolutionary or rebel in a dictionary, you will find three letters – Che. Ernesto “Che” Guevara spent most of his life as a rebel. Even when he became a minister with Fidel Castro’s Cuban government, he found it unsettling enough to not rebel and had to leave and was eventually killed leading another rebellion, in Bolivia. But going through “The Motorcycle Diaries”, you can feel his passion for freedom from oppression, which made him the rebel that he became.

Che grew up in a comfortable background, coming from an upper class family in Argentina. After his bike ride through Latin America however, he sought out the oppressed and fought for their freedom. Alberto Granado, Che’s companion, had past experience with leper patients and this guided Che to the leper colonies in South America bringing him in close contact with the downtrodden people of the society. In Chile, he visited the mining communities of Chuquicamata who formed the backbone of the nation. But as is in most cases even today, the living conditions of such communities are considerably bad. But on the other side the owners of mining companies reap huge profits from their employees. All these were contributing factors for young Ernesto’s conversion into Che.

Beyond the revolutionary background of the story, the book is a beautiful travelogue. Guevara’s description of the Incan ruins brings out the literary quality of the author. It is in Peru, in conversations with a local doctor, that Guevara turned towards communism. Both the events had a lasting impact on his life, and death.

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