In 1952, Che Guevara was forever changed after he took a motorcycle trip around South America. Born in Argentina in 1928, the oldest of five children, he had an unremarkable childhood. He was plagued with asthma, something he would struggle with his whole life. Taking a year off before going to medical school, he and a friend set out to explore South America. Everywhere he went, he saw poverty, hunger and disease. He saw huge corporations, from both North and South America, exploiting the workers to get as much work out of them for as little pay as possible. And he was moved. He vowed to “be a doctor who changes society.”
After medical school, he went to Mexico, where he met Fidel Castro. He joined Castro’s cause to liberate Cuba from the puppet dictator, Batista. When Castro asks him why he, Che, an Argentinean, wants to help Cuba, Che responds, “I want to win freedom not just for one country, but for the entire continent, and for all mankind.” Guevara’s perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds and his dedication to making the world a fairer place where all people have rights and access to basic necessities made Guevara a hero for many to this day.
The manga barely touches on his family life. It is there, his two wives and his children, but in passing. You are left with the impression that his family was second to his work. While this may be true, I would have preferred to have that stated overtly, rather than just implied and it made it feel like the authors forgot part of his life. Additionally, while they do mention his two failed attempts at starting revolutions after he leaves Cuba (in the Congo and in Bolivia), again they feel a little skimmed over and you are left wondering if that was on purpose or a failing of the writers.
Don’t let the graphic novel format fool you – this is dense. There is a lot of text, especially in places where it is important to the story for the reader to understand the politics of an issue or the history of a situation. There is no quick way to illustrate that information and the writer just tells you, rather than shows you. While I don’t love the black and white manga styling of this story (I think the difficulties of fighting a guerilla war in the rain forests of Cuba would have been better served with color illustrations), I do feel that it is a great way to give an introduction to Guevara’s life. Also, there is a very complete bibliography in the back for those wanting more information.
This book would be a great addition to any high school library.
Che Guevara: A Manga Biography
by Kiyoshi Kono
Art by Chie Shimano
Penguin Books, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult (12 and up)