There is a brisk energy in every sentence of Guevara’s seminal work, The Motorcycle Diaries. The fresh, poetic voice is unfiltered and infused with idealism and heart. This is a book of human kindness, all that is good and bad about humanity is here. The ultimate companion to any one wishing to make a difference in this world, The Motorcycle Diaries is a timeless, heart breaking, pleasure.
As if patiently dissecting, we pry into dirty stairways and dark recesses, talking to the swarms of beggars; we plumb the Ivy’s depths, the miasmas draw us in. Our distended nostrils inhale the poverty with sadistic intensity.
Writing during a period of less than a decade since the hideous scar of World War Two, Guevara gives a passionate and personal insight into Latin America. The gap between the poor and the rich is so stark that the diary could fall into a monotone diatribe of the world’s wrongs. Instead, the pure hospitality and hope of the portraits drawn by Ernesto allow for what is an idealistic hope that will not be surrendered.
The stars drew light across the night sky in that little mountain village, and the silence and the cold made the darkness vanish away. It was- I don’t know how to explain it- as if everything solid melted away into the ether, eliminating all individuality and absorbing us, rapid, into the immense darkness. Not a single cloud to lend perspective to the space blocked any portion of the starry sky. Less than a few metres away the dim light of a lamp lost its power to fade the darkness.
Ernesto, despite the moments of isolation of the trip, often alone with the natural features, does not overstate his political or personal desires. Of course, his friend, Alberto is an ever reassuring presence; but this is all Ernesto. We don’t have to believe his vision of the world, but effortlessly, you do. No matter your politics, the mythical Che is humanised. This is not a political diatribe, it would be too easy to label this as from the political Left. It is of the humanist tradition.
It is Ernesto’s observations and seamless prose that allows the natural environment to consume the humans roaming the land. I can’t help but compare this period, the 1950s Latin America, to Australia at the same time. There are times when Ernesto could be describing Australia. The mineral wealth and the dispossession of the Indigenous people and the intrusion of the colonial mentality into every facet of life is remarkably familiar. I sense many similarities in the discoveries of Ernesto and Alberto to that of the Freedom Rides through New South Wales in the 1960’s. With that comparison, who is our Ernesto?
We know the end; we know that this man who we come to love and share his pain and joy, is dead, killed. Knowing the end of his life and all that came before the untimely death will not weaken the beauty of his diary.
From 2014,The Motorcycle Diaries will be on the NSW HSC English Course prescribed text list in the Area of study: Discovery.