For a book that wasn’t meant to be published, ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ is a remarkably thought-provoking, charmingly humorous, sometimes boring account of the travels of two idealistic young Argentine doctors through the continent of South America on ‘La Poderosa’. The title is quite inappropriate when you consider that the motorcycle in question, ‘La Poderosa’ gives way less than halfway through the journey. This unfortunate and unforeseen event seems to have given the foolhardy and ever determined Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Alberto more opportunities to study the strangeness of human ways.
Years later, we know how that significant journey impacted their lives, what became of the two, how it all ended; but to read about what Che was thinking while he looked up at the Chilean stars - that’s what makes it worthwhile. When you read this book, you can almost smell the salty sea breeze, taste the wildness, feel that freedom; and it made me want to pack up and leave on a journey of my own.
The second half of the book, though, drags a bit as enthusiastic Che describes in minute detail, all the architectural grandeur of Peru, while giving an account of the fall of the Inca dynasty to the Spanish conquistadors. This must have been one of the most influential events that spurred him into turning into the revolutionary that he later became; however, from a non South American reader’s point of view, it’s something to be ‘got through’ in order to enjoy the rest of the book.
Che’s style of writing is pleasant and surprisingly good – “Gold doesn’t have the gentle dignity of silver which becomes more charming as it ages, and so the cathedral seems to be decorated like an old woman with too much make up.“ There’s loads of humour too, to keep the reader chuckling; and inspiration if you’re willing to take it. His story is almost unbelievable – and there lies the inspiration. And it does help that the book has a generous number of pictures, though I personally didn’t get enough of handsome Ernesto.
Verdict: While I would classify the book as an interesting read with some slow moving parts, nothing really “happens” in the book. There is no “action”, no destination to the journey; perhaps that is why the book also feels like it ended out of the blue. It was meant to be a journal and it is just that: a warm, human, humorous one.