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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 22 March 2014

"Fidel and Che: a revolutionary friendship" by Simon Reid-Henry

Fred gave me this hardback. It felt heavy and looked really dry. I put off reading it for a couple of weeks. I picked it up with the feeling that I was going to have to push myself.

But Che Guevara is such a romantic figure and Reid-Henry writes so well that I really enjoyed this book. From his youth motorbiking and hitch-hiking around South America to fighting as a guerilla in the Cuban Sierra the story rattled along. And it bounced backwards and forwards to the story of Fidel Castro who, if not so good-looking and less exciting still packed an awful lot into his early years staging an attempted coup, being imprisoned, seeking exile in Mexico and then leading the small group of men on a leaky boat who were almost wiped out on landing in Cuba but went on to defeat an army.

The book falters slightly in the early days of the new Cuban regime. It's difficult to thrill when describing the manoeuvrings of politicians although there is a fascinating narrative in the story of how the US repeatedly pushed the Cubans into the arms of the USSR despite the Cubans feeling terribly betrayed when Khrushchev backed down to Kennedy during the Missile Crisis. But the tale picks up again when Che, desperate to foment world revolution by repeating his Cuban guerilla success abroad, disappears from the Cuban stage. Rumours abound. Is he dead? Has he been put away by Castro? In fact he is fighting anonymously in the Congo from which he barely escapes with his life. After having hidden in the Cuban embassy in Tanzania for some time he then returns to Cuba briefly to move on to try his luck again in Bolivia. Another failure awaits him and he is finally captured and executed.

This book is a brilliant exploration of the enduring friendship of two different but very complimentary men. It is unlikely that either would have achieved all that they did without the other and the fact that they split at the end does not mean that they stopped being friends. Rather, Fidel supported Che in pursuing his dreams abroad. The difference was that Che was the idealist (which caused difficulties and tensions when they were finally in government together) and Fidel was the pragmatic politician, shucking and jiving to stay in power.

There is one brilliant photograph of the pair together in a Mexican prison before they set out to invade Cuba. Reid-Henry says it is the first photograph of the pair together. The unbearded Fidel is buttoning up his jacket; he looks rather like a natty dresser. Che stands to the side. He is topless with his hands behind his back; his trousers are undone at the top and the belt is undone. It looks for all the world as if Fidel is dressing after having enjoyed a rent boy. But what is stunning is how young Che looks. He too is clean shaven and his hair is quite short; he is no more than a handsome boy. He is 28. He looks 17. Within three years this pair will be the leaders of Cuba.

The book stops with Che's death before his fortieth birthday. The friendship is finished although Castro and Cuba continued to honour Ernesto Guevara.

I thoroughly enjoyed this revealing and well written joint biography of two fascinating men. March 2014; 382 pages

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