Thursday, December 8, 2011

REVIEW: Che Guevara: A Manga Biography, by Kiyoshi Konno and Chie Shimano

Che Guevara: A Manga Biography, by Kiyoshi Konno and Chie Shimano. Published 2011 by Penguin. Graphica. Nonfiction. Biography. Young Adult.
Che Guevara is the second of Penguin's three-part manga biography series I've read recently, and probably my least favorite of the three. It covers the life of Ernesto "Che" Guevara from his motorcycle trip across South America, where he first came face to face with many of the injustices suffered by indigenous people, to the time he leaves Castro's nascent Communist Cuba for armed struggles in Africa and South America. Guevara's face has become a kind of icon of cool, adorning hipster t-shirts and fashion accessories. But how much do the people who wear Che on their chest really know about who he was?

This book, like the other two in the series, presents a fairly basic outline of the major events of its subject's life. In Che's case, this means his formative years fighting in South America and his role in Castro's Cuba. Konno and Shimano treat Guevara like a folk hero, shining him up into a glamorous and principled freedom fighter, putting it all on the line for the oppressed against the big bad imperialist U.S. and its corporate powers. It's something that could be passed around the Occupy movement like a manga manifesto. I wish the authors had chosen a more nuanced and balanced portrayal, because Che was a complex person not easily reduced to one stereotype or another, and his legacy is not entirely clear-cut. And the book goes way easy on Castro.

So this one was kind of mixed for me. I applaud the idea of explaining to young people who this man was and what he stood for, but a little more balance and honesty with respect to his promulgation of violence as a means to an end would have been nice. And as I've said before, it's just bizarre to me to put him alongside Gandhi and the 14th Dalai Lama. I think the book would serve as a decent, if one-sided, introduction to a very polarizing figure. Read it with your teen, and make sure he or she knows the other side of the story.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin.