Thursday, 22 January 2009

Che (Verso books 2009)

You know his face; you may even have had the poster up in your student bedsit as a symbol of revolution, empowerment and putting the world to rights. You may not know his entire history. You may just know the film, Steven Soderburgh's two-part focus on two of Che's major campaigns, in Cuba and Bolivia with a tour-de-force performance from Benicio del Toro. You may not know the politics. You may even think he's Cuban (he's not- he's an Argentine son of the Peron regime). This graphic novel is a simple and well-layed out introduction to the icon and symbol of revolution and peoples' rights that is Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Starting with his teen years and moving swiftly through his time during the Peron regime and his mother's politics, he soon leaves on his famed journey across Latin America, which he diarised (and was later turned into a film) in 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. The drawings are simple and paint freezeframe motives for the snapshots of text that offer a bitesize view of Che's life. As he becomes immersed in the liberation of Cuba as a guerilla with a young and undictatorial Fidel Castro, he becomes a figure, a background presence full of stoicism and polemic as the action focuses on the guerilla army's growth from 19 ragtag soldiers to a full complement of freedom fighters. Spain Rodriguez's telling of Che's life, particularly his travels and attempts to broker a kind of Latin American communist utopia paints Che exactly as history did, as a symbol and a figure, to the point where we don't get into his psyche too much, we learn little of his personal life (apart from an affair and mentions of his children) and exactly what built him. 'The Motorcycle Diaries' are an amazing source material in that they accurately describe the personal growth of the man from laddish man about town to revolutionary, seeing how people are treated and how wrong it is, how people need rights and those rights need to be recognised. It's an ambitious piece of work trying to cram in all the work he has done and his final campaign in Bolivia that led to his death is glossed over a little. But this is no real bad thing. This is an introduction. If you like what you read there is an informative article at the end and many more books about Che you can read. This is a perfect ease-in for students and the like, immersed in culture who may have the posters and may have seen the films. The format is interesting too as the graphic pictorals of war and guerilla life are intricately told in classy black and white. Ultimately, Spain Rodriguez had a difficult task on him in taking on the story of Che Guevara but in the end has delivered a perfect jumping-on point for reading behind that all important face that is claimed to be the most widely reproduced photograph in the world.

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