Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Non-Fiction Reads: The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara


This isn't a tale of derring-do, nor is it merely some kind of 'cynical account'; it isn't meant to be, at least. It's a chunk of two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and similar dreams. In nine months a man can think a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup – in perfect harmony with the state of his stomach. And if, at the same time, he's a bit of an adventurer, he could have experiences which might interest other people and his random account would read something like this diary.
- The Motorcycle Diaries, Introduction 

Who was Che Guevara? For starters, he was an Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary; the leader of Cuban and international guerrillas.

What Guevara became and how much the journey described in the book contributed to it, is another story. We may not approve of the violent path that Guevara walked later on. But here, he is one of us, more recognizable, more accessible, yet apart.

It was only in 1993 that The Motorcycle Diaries was first published, more than 40 years after it was written.Translated from the Spanish, the book was also made into a movie by the same name.The present edition that I possess, The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey was released in 2003. 

In 1950, a young Guevara had already done a 4500-km trip across Argentina on a bicycle with a small motor attached to it. In January 1952, 23-year-old Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado, 29, took a one-year break from their medical studies and embarked on a road trip they had been planning for a long time. Granado's 1939 500cc Norton motorbike, nicknamed La Poderasa (the mighty one) was to be their riding companion. This was to be an epic road trip covering South America in its entirety.

The book is a collection of notes Guevara wrote during the journey. The narration is full of surprises, of the joys, difficulties and the unexpected humorous situations that arise during the journey. Overloaded with luggage, 'the mighty one' suffers many crashes until finally becoming obsolete, halfway through the journey.

The change in Guevara from a carefree young man to the person he finally became can be witnessed in these writings. The duo spends nights at strangers' abodes, get visited by a Puma and are almost done in by possible murderers. On the road, there is the extreme cold to contend with. New experiences greet the travelers at every bend. At the journey's end, Guevara and Granado are bound to travel their separate roads.

A distinct gem of a travelogue, fragrant of youth, enthusiasm and daring.


(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

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