"Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara" by Jorge Castaneda (1997)
"Finally, there was Che's relationship with Fidel Castro. He had sworn that there would be neither marriage nor divorce, but this balance became increasingly precarious the longer he remained in Cuba. Guevara could not countenance the changes Castro was effecting, or promoting, on the island. Nor could he break with him, or wish to. He never imagined himself playing the role of a Trotsky, or even an anti-Trotsky, as a marginalized leader who nonetheless defends himself while he still possesses the means to do so."
Jorge Castaneda is a Professor of Public Service at New York University. He has held posts at other universities, and has written widely on Latin American issues.
As the subtitle indicates, this book presents the life and death of Che Guevara, noted revolutionary and political thinker. It begins with his death in Bolivia, and from there reviews his life chronologically, from his birth in Argentina to his last days.
Having known almost nothing about Che Guevara before reading this book, I found the subject matter interesting, if not overpoweringly so. As a utopian, possibly quixotic figure, it's easy to understand the enduring appeal of Che Guevara - even if most people couldn't tell you exactly what he stood for, or why.
As a work of non-fiction, this biography struggles in the beginning. I'm guessing that there wasn't enough material available on Guevara's pre-"Motorcycle Diary" years, and the author has to jump to a lot of conclusions about who Guevara was at this stage in his life. From the standpoint of readability, it might have been better to start with Che's wanderings, and to have mentioned still earlier episodes only in passing.
This book grows more interesting once Guevara finally meets up with Castro, though the author has a tendency to bog down the narrative with an overabundance of details and counter-examples. His writing style and academic honesty are, I feel, beyond reproach, but his constant appeal to personal interviews feels too much like an equivocation, and weakens the impact the book might have otherwise had.
Companero is also burdened by a terrible job of printing. Many of the pages in my copy were misaligned, and a couple were missing altogether. Where the type is less distinct, it's hard to tell the "a" from the "o," and by the time I reached the end pages were starting to come out. The publishing company could have done a much better job.
Yet printing aside, Companero's a decent book that taught me a lot about both Che Guevara and the world he lived in. I can't say that it was absorbing, but I doubt that there are any other books about Che that display the same breadth and passion for the subject matter. If you're interested in Cuban, Soviet, or Central/South American history, I would recommend this book. If not, you'll probably find little to arouse your interest in Companero.