News of the death last weekend at 88 of Alberto Granado will bring about the usual firestorm of comment from the extreme Right and Left, reasserting either Che Guevara’s unforgivably murderous nature or the wish to elevate him to some sort of secular celebrity sainthood. Neither response to Guevara is appropriate on the face of it, and especially in the context of the constant unchanging drum roll of both opinions, over and over since Guevara’s death 44 years ago. It’s astonishing that one man could engender so much repetitive cliché.
Granado was Ernesto Guevara’s companion on the now-famous motorcycle trip the two men made in 1951 through many South American countries. It’s often been said that this trip was the event that introduced Guevara to the numbing poverty of so many people in these countries and the extraordinarily cruel treatment meted out to them by the various governments. His having observed all this at close hand fueled his move to the Left and his eventual friendship and political alliance with Fidel Castro. The 1959 Cuban revolution was, for good or ill, the singular stunning result.
It is a surprise to discover how little is known of Che Guevara’s actual feelings, however. His diaries for the most reveal a doctrinaire Stalinist political stance, and not much else. Even when he was being pursued through the Bolivian countryside, hiding out from the Bolivian army, losing men every step of the way in a free fall to total defeat and his own destruction, the diary he kept of that time is so uninteresting, not to say boring, that we can conclude at least that this man was no writer. Most of the other writing about him is either academic history or political diatribe disguised as history and, therefore, just as boring.
But Guevara made personal choices that, it seems to me, must have hurt him terribly, whether he realized it or not. He left his five children for The Revolution, and one of the heart-rending stories about his relationship with his family is that of his visit one day with his little daughter Aleida in a Cuban pre-school, while having to remain so disguised that even she did not recognize him. His heart simply broke. On other occasions, he murdered people. He authorized the deaths of many more. He embarked upon a farcical adventure in Bolivia with little backing and no support from the Bolivians themselves. He was abandoned out there by Fidel and left to rot. Guevara’s writing in general and all the political stuff that has come out since his death contains very little of how he must have felt in his soul about all this.
Maybe this is the territory that would be better suited by fiction about Che Guevara. A major stage for discussions of the human heart, fiction may be the one place where we can get the truth about this strange, driven, violent man.
(Terence Clarke’s novel A Kiss For Señor Guevara was published last year.)
Causes Terence Clarke Supports