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Up the revolution: Che Guevara's legend is being resurrected by biographer John Lee Anderson
I I spirit Following the discovery of Che Guevara's corpse, the Latin American revolutionary's legend is being resurrected. Guevara's biographer
JOHN LEE ANDERSON has helped relight the flame. Words: Teddy Jamieson
The T-shirts will have faded now. the posters. if they are still on any walls. will be yellowed and torn. There was a time Che Guevara. hero of the Cuban revolution and the very model of a modern guerrilla. was the number one pin-up of any self-respecting student radical.
Today. if he is remembered by western students at all. it's as a blurry example of radical chic. the man behind the beard and beret. long buried beneath a half- remembered myth.
Our pop history of the 60s these days seems to begin and end with the Beatles. JFK and Vietnam. The collective cultural memories of the period are filtered through an Anglo-American lens that leaves what happened in the Third World almost completely in the dark.
When American journalist John Lee Anderson first suggested Che might be an interesting subject in I990. editors dismissed Latin America‘s most (in)famous revolutionary as passe. Che‘s status as a hippy ‘poster-boy‘ meant they couldn‘t see past his pop culture image. Guevara’s historical importance. not only in Latin America. btit in world politics. was
Yet if the West had forgotten. the Third World
certainly hadn‘t. Anderson. a former Time reporter
who cut his journalistic teeth in central America
during the 80s. kept stumbling over Che‘s name while
researching an earlier book on guerrillas. He remembers: ‘I found Che Guevara in the form of his guerrilla warfare manuals being read
assiduously by wannabe guerrillas in the jungles of
Burma. in the form of his photograph being carried
'l found Che Guevara in the form of his guerrilla warfare manuals being read assiduously by wannabe guerrillas in the jungles Of Burma.’ John Lee Anderson
around by a Mujahedeen commander who. although be quite clearly didn’t share Che‘s philosophy. revered him as the ultimate. archetypal guerrilla figure.‘
Guevara was born to a middle class Argentinian family in 1928. Radicalised by his nomadic wanderings through South America as a young man. he joined Fidel Castro‘s small military force that took on the Batista regime in Cuba in the mid 50s.
When Castro eventually came to power. Guevara proved one of his most outspoken and radical colleagues. Wanting to export the revolution. he led a Cuban military expedition to the Congo to help the native revolutionaries. When that proved abortive. he decamped to Bolivia. hoping to spark a Latin American uprising.
Again. his plans proved unsuccessful and the campaign faltered in the face of splits with the Bolivian communists and wholesale mistrust from the country‘s peasants. In October 1967 he was killed by Bolivian soldiers after being captured in a firefight.
Anderson‘s exhaustive biography. which took the American writer five years to complete and sent him to three different continents for research. is just one
factor behind a rekindling of
interest in Che. It was preceded by the publication of Guevara‘s own :llotort‘vi‘lt' [)1'urir's. and earlier this summer. as a direct result of Anderson‘s research. (‘hc’s long- concealed burial place was finally uncovered.
These developments have prompted an increasing interest in his legacy — the theme of Anderson’s talk at the Book Festival.
‘In terms of specific goals he was trying to promote or endorse in his life. he failed.‘ .»'\nderson believes. But by trying to establish a socialist ideal in the way he lived his own life. Anderson argues Guevara did create something lasting.
‘What he was trying to do was to create the new man. an liveryman to work and live on behalf of the “common good”.‘ says Anderson. ‘And in the sense that (‘he lived and died trying to do that himself — to the point of giving his life in a sacrifice for the cause — he created an enduring emblem. an archetype.‘
Guevara Is Dead: Long Live Guevara! (Book Festival) John Lee Anderson, Post Office Theatre, 10 Aug, 12.30pm. Che Guevara by John Lee Anderson is published by Bantam Press at £25.
H it list Get between the covers with hottest events at the Book 5 Festival. Carolyn Cassady The wife and lover“; of American Beat writers Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac talks about her autobiography Off The Road. See feature, page 25. ESPC Studio Theatre, 220 3990, Thu 74 Aug, 5pm, free but ticketed.
Guevara Is Dead: Long Live Guevara See preview, left. Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, Sun 10 Aug, 72.30pm, £ 7 (£5). Celebratory Readings An international line-up of authors in this Index On Censorship event includes Scotland's A.L. Kennedy and Chris Dolan, Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa and award- winning Basque author Bernardo Atxaga. Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, Sun 70 Aug, 8pm, £6 (£5). George Melly The jazzman, art critic and raconteur gives the Bacher Trust Lecture on the Surrealists. See preview. Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, Tue 72 Aug, 7.30pm, £7 (£4.
Iain Banks Following the hugely successful BBC adaptation of Banks’s The Crow Road, he launches his new novel Song Of Stone. See feature, page 17. Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, Sat 9Aug, 5pm, £6 (£5).
Pop Culture In The 905 Film critic Adam Mars-Jones joins novelist and columnist Carole Morin, and writers Matthew Branton and Michael Bracewell in discussion. See preView. ESPC Studio Theatre, 220 3990, Wed 13 Aug, 5.70pm, £5 (£3). Remembering George Mackay Brown The Opening of Orkney-based Gunnie Moberg’s exhibition of photographs, accompanied by poems written by the late George Mackay Brown. Paying tribute to Mackay Brown will be his biographer Maggie Parhan, Bernard Mac Laverty and others. See preview. International Cafe, 220 3990, Thu 74 Aug, 7.30pm, free but ticketed.
8—-M Aug 1997 THE LIST 89