Che Guevara: A Manga Biography

Che Guevara
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
ISBN: 9780143118169
Penguin Books, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult (12 and up)

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  • Larry S

    You forgot to include in your short and frivolous synopsis the firing squad killings in La Cabana and Santa Clara where Che had hundreds of innocents tortured and murdered. He often expressed how much he enjoyed killing. He also, along with Castro, wanted to nuke North America. Idealist? Certainly. Psychopath? Definitely. This revisionist pap turns my stomach.

  • Emma

    I don’t disagree with your assesment. Guevara did some horrible things in the course of his life. My assignment was to evaluate this particular manga. Despite having grown up in a household where my parents subscribed to Marxism Today, I really knew nothing about Guevara before I read this. Perhaps I should have done more research on Guevara’s life before evaluating this work.
    I was aware that this was a brief overview of his life that clearly just touched on the major points of why he is famous. It skims over his relationships (which seems fairly sexist) and what he did after Cuba.
    And yet I stand by what I said. This is an introductory book to Guevara’s life, a biography for kids looking for basic information. And it provides that. It has a full biography in the back that would point kids to a more complete telling of his life.
    I’m sorry if I implied that he was a flat figure. We are all complex and mutifacited people, Guevara as well. But given the limitations of what this book was trying to achieve, I think they achieved it well.