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Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend Paperback – February 15, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

A motorcycle trip in 1952 marked a turning point for Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna, a medical student returning from a journey into poverty and oppression with a vision of guerilla-style change and a new name, Che Guevara. Going on to help overthrow the Cuban government, align himself with Castro, and become elevated to martyred hero status when he was executed in Bolivia in 1967, Guevara's likeness is now commercialized and captured on T-shirts, castanets, and watches.

New York writer Patrick Symmes embarks on motorcycle tracing Guevara's route through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Cuba, seeking insight into what Guevara experienced and what his political movement wrought. Meeting with those who knew the young Che--among them a lover, a leper, and his motorcycle traveling cohort--proves interesting enough, though rarely insightful since some were children at the time, some are confused, and others refuse to talk openly. More revealing are Symmes's travels on his bike, nicknamed La Cucaracha. He winds through both Buenos Aires' high society and Peruvian poverty, finding a fragmented country where revolutions have brought mountain peasants fleeing to shanty towns, and where blind idealism coexists with blatant denouncement of the violent tactics used by Cuban Communists, even by Che's most respected soldiers. Beautifully written, the stories that unfold here reflect the complex contradiction that endures in Latin America three long decades after Ernesto "Che" Guevara's death. --Melissa Rossi

From Publishers Weekly

In 1952, a 17-year-old, prerevolutionary Che Guevara lit out with a friend on a motorcycle trip through Latin America. It was, as he wrote in his Motorcycle Diaries, a journey that would shape his attitudes toward politics, people and revolutions. Symmes, a freelance travel writer, traversed the same route in 1996, with entertaining and illuminating results. Fluidly moving between the past and the present, he tosses out observations about Che's expedition while chronicling his own adventures. In Argentina, Symmes encounters a defensive German who insists he is not a Nazi; in Chile he visits a utopian settlement founded by a wealthy and radical environmentalist; in Peru he visits a leper colony, the same one Che visited in 1952. Refreshingly, Symmes avoids digressions of self-discovery, instead letting his book serve as a primer for recent Latin American history and his own take on the region. Symmes's prose, like the Latin America he writes about, is spotted with gems. He says pointedly, "The funny thing about a dictatorship: it was great for culture. If there was one sure way Pinochet could support poetry, it was by staging a military coup." Unsentimental and funny, this book combines the spiritedness of a gonzo journalist with a serious reporter's sense of purpose. First serial rights to Talk magazine. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375702652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375702655
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
I must admit that, until now, the only thing that I knew about Che Guevara was that he was a Latin American revolutionary and that there were posters of him everywhere in the 1970s. I do love travel books, however - especially if the writer takes a personal journey to retrace a part of history. And so, this book, subtitled "A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend" has been intriguing me from bookstore shelves for some time. I finally purchased it and it took me all summer to read, not because it's a long book. Indeed, it's a small paperback that is only 302 pages long. I've not been in a reading mood lately but I kept this book my tote bag and read it a few pages at a time whenever I had an idle moment. I finally finished it as summer waned into Labor Day weekend. And I must say I've enjoyed its companionship.

In 1952, Che Guevara, then a young Argentinean doctor, took a motorcycle trip with a companion named Alberto Granado throughout South American. When the journey was over eight months later, Che had transformed into a revolutionary. He later became a hero in the Cuban revolution and was murdered in Bolivia in 1967. Che's own book, "The Motorcycle Diaries" has become a classic and I understand it will soon become a film.

I think Che's story is fascinating. However, I, personally, identified more with the writer, who carried the diaries of both Guevara and Granado with him on his own trip and took notes constantly. I absorbed his sense of adventure as he traveled the same roads as the legendary Che. Good thing Patrick Symmes, who is an American, speaks Spanish. He needed it throughout his trip, especially during the many times his own motorcycle, a BMW R80/GS, broke down.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. McKeon on August 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was drawn to this book more because of a well established attraction to South America than a particular interest in Che Guevara. This book was particularly satisfying because it spoke to my interests, expanded my understanding of Guevera, and described a rivetting adventure.
Mr. Symmes is impressive from a variety of perspectives. You are struck by his spirit, endurance and "guts" striving to replicate the Guevara's gritty adventure of the '50's. Curiosity to see whether Symmes and his BMW bike "Kookie" will complete the marathon alone keeps you reading. However, besides admiring his daring and iconoclasm, you find that Symmes is a solid scholar and a fine wordsmith.
The book provides an accurate and informative description of the depradations of the recent military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, and points out the irony of how, long after he was dead, Guevara contributed to their emergence. Symmes also provides a moving description of the centuries old fate of the Latin American poor in Peru and Bolivia as well. While "up close" experience has made his perspective justifiably left of center he effectively makes his case by sticking to the unvarnished facts. He refrains from offering any half baked neo-Marxist aphorisms, and provides balance by noting the arrogance, chauvanism, pointless brutality, and ultimate hubris of Guevara, as well as the Machiavellian meglomania of Castro. The book's thesis is that Guevara the symbol and myth have ultimately have had far more global impact than any of the achievements of Guevara the man.
This book is educational, moving, and thought provoking whether you are left or right on the political spectrum. If you know little about Latin America or Che, you will learn quite a bit about this often ignored part of the world.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John Harrison on December 8, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I do not know what I expected when I bought this book, but reading g it proved well worth my time and money. It is a travel book more in the spirit of Stienbeck's Travels With Charlie than it is with In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. It is a ramble, through southern South America, along the journey made by Che before he was "Che" and through the mind of Patrick Symmes. All three are interesting places to go.
I guess my one surprise was the amount of trouble that he had with his BMW motorcycle. A friend of mine had one several years ago, the same model if not the same year, and it was almost indestructible. It had to be with my friend as the owner. So that was a disappointment.
The insights into the historical person Che became later are there, sort of sprinkled through the book as is a good look at the youth. He is not an adulator and he neither hides nor dwells on the dark side of being a committed revolutionary. Of course, Che was not yet committed at least when he started this journey. A warrior doctor along with the idea of a warrior priest has always seemed to be an oxymoron to me. The creation of exactly that which you have trained, at great cost, to fight must require conviction of a special kind. That Che was committed there can be no doubt - but why to this life course remains elusive for me. He was sensitive man, and a killer. A doctor and a soldier. A revolutionary and a mystic. Like Thomas Jefferson's utterly inexplicable slave holdings, these realities are also the reasons he still fascinates me.
I like the book. I think I would like the author and I recommend it as an interesting look at a difficult man and a romantic journey that I and perhaps you would have liked to have joined, and may still enjoy in spirit.
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