2012, 146p. (e-book) (translated by Pilar Aguilera)
I was spurred to read this book more by my recent trip to Cuba than anything else, but it is particularly apposite given that it is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Che Gueverra in Bolivia on 10 October 1967.
Moreover, there has been a little bubble of fictional books recently, told from the perspective of the unheralded wife of a famous man: Mrs Cook, and Emma Darwin “the inspirational wife of a genius”. This book, however, is told in Che’s wife’s own words. It is the translated work of a woman who is not a natural writer, and it is a rather stilted and at times hagiographic work. But beyond this, the restrictions and even mundaneness of life with a man lauded as a revolutionary hero (and criticized for his inflexibility and his ruthlessness in exacting ‘revolutionary justice’ too) comes through in this book, despite its limitations.
Aleida March was quite a bit younger than Ernesto Che Guevara, and when she first met the man already dominant in revolutionary circles, she did not think of him romantically at all. He was already married, and she was working as a teacher as well as circulating on the edges of the leadership of the revolution. She had brought contraband goods to the revolutionaries, taped to her body, and she needed his assistance to remove the tape that had adhered to her skin. After this rather intimate start, they were married only for eight years, and had four children in that time.
As might be expected in such a book, there are a lot of names, as various people are name-checked and credited. She assumes, as might be expected in a book written in Spanish and published in Cuba, a familiarity with the events and people of the Cuban revolution that readers on the other side of the world might not necessarily have. There are short, but useful, footnotes giving some of the details that March has skated over, but I wish there had been a map as well.
Despite all his revolutionary ardour, Che seems to have held fairly traditional views of gender roles, and his wife seems to have been just as much relegated to the stage-curtains of obscurity as other wives of famous men. He was quite blatant in his preference for sons over daughters, and it was quite clear that the mission of spreading revolution in Africa and other South American nationals was paramount over any other family or personal ties.
Which is not to say that it was easy. I was really touched near the end of the book when she relates how Che disguised himself as an old man to return clandestinely to Cuba, before leaving for Bolivia where he met his death. He wanted to see his children, but they could not let the children know who he was, because they were too young to be able to be trusted completely not to tell others. So he put on padding, and dubbed himself ‘Uncle Ramon’ and visited the family for one day under the guise of being an old family friend. When his daughter fell and hurt herself, he tended her injury (he had been a doctor). She came up to her mother afterwards and whispered to her “I think that man loves me”. How sad that he couldn’t tell her who he was: how poignant that she sensed it anyway.
The circumstances around Guevara’s death are given little space. She was left in her thirties, with four young children. She did remarry, but gives few details. In fact, she is rather absent in this book, which is more about her husband than herself.
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
My rating: 7/10