Sceptre £20

Fidel & Che: A revolutionary friendship, By Simon Reid-Henry

A new biography describes how the Cuban Revolution was ignited by the spark between its two iconic leaders

This gripping double biography describes the full-blooded friendship of two utterly different individuals. Differences can often mean separation. Yet, in the case of these two leaders, they rapidly fused into an unrivalled and irreversible complementarity. Theirs was an unfaltering and instinctive camaraderie, forged by a joint commitment to end what they perceived as the neo-colonialism of economic dependency. This would become their combined revolutionary project and, indeed, the backbone to the Cuban Revolution.

The book begins by tracing the two revolutionaries' respective origins. Fidel Castro was born in Oriente, the impoverished eastern region of Cuba with a vibrant culture immersed in rum, dancing and cockfighting. Yet for all its excitement, the community's crippled and faltering economy made a profound and permanent impression on the young Fidelito. His resulting social conviction, along with an extreme personal ambition and trademark persuasiveness, armed him for "a sort of verbal warfare", a persistent method of attack that would prove instrumental in toppling the Batista regime some years later, in 1959. But not without an indispensable sidekick ...

Ernesto "Che" Guevara's family, though of noble Argentine stock, are described as "uncompromising heretics when it came to the conventions of their class". Che, it seems, took this cultural iconoclasm a step or two further. Whereas his mother "had her hair bobbed like a boy's [and] smoked and crossed her legs in public", Che would travel across Latin America on a moped, fall in with a band of Cuban exiles in Mexico, only to find himself aboard a Cuba-bound boat a year later shouting: "Viva la revolución!" Wilful? Just a little.

However, such spontaneity is more easily understood in the context of his idealist philosophy. For Che Guevara there was no "foreign" in Latin America. It was with this vision of solidarity that he was able to endure the physical battering he received in his first two years in Cuba. Undeterred by a government ambush on arrival (in which he was shot in the neck and lost 69 of his 82 comrades) Comandante Che would go on to orchestrate a two-year guerilla campaign in the Sierra Maestra, second only to Castro himself.

The intense, often "cloying" experience, as Simon Reid-Henry puts it, in the Cuban mountains only served to further revolutionise the two men, and, indeed, to bring them closer together. In the ensuing years they collaborated in a series of often unpredictable international manoeuvers that would stun the world of international politics.

To a large extent, their successes were owed precisely to their different attributes. Indeed, with Che's unswerving idealism and Fidel's machiavellian political foresight, the two men would repeatedly establish a point and counterpoint of revolutionary harmony. As Reid-Henry neatly conveys, this benefit was clear to both men. For instance, in reference to Fidel's early intentions for the shape and nature of the revolution's leadership, Reid-Henry comments: "Whatever question marks had hung over Che's continued stay in Cuba certainly appeared to have been solved by 9 February, when Fidel passed a law making him a naturalised Cuban citizen. The law applied to all people who had fought against Batista for more than two years and who had held the rank of Comandante for one: in effect, none other than Che himself."

Naturally, there are limitations to our understanding of other people's relationships and this book proves no exception. Here, this is exacerbated by the paucity of commentary by Castro himself on the subject of his 12-year friendship with Che. As Reid-Henry suggests, this effective silence is indeed surprising. One is left in no doubt as to Castro's political genius. It could be merely that the former president of Cuba continues to see political advantage in declining to divulge more information. Yet perhaps his resistance is best explained by reference to the biographer's own hypothesis, that Fidel and Che were compañeros (friends) first and foremost. Why should he divulge such personal information?

Although we cannot know everything about their relationship, this new biographer has given more substance to the ghostly flicker that it has been up to now. This is a scholarly, deeply impressive work, none the less so for being Reid-Henry's first book. It is rigorously sourced, containing recently declassified CIA material, as well as archival and personal interview material from Havana, Washington, Moscow, Miami, Princeton, Boston, London and Berlin. Owing to this thorough scrutiny, Reid-Henry is able to describe his protagonists with a familiarity both engaging and authoritative. The credibility of his evidence and his analysis, together, make this book more than just another interesting double biography. Fidel & Che is the artful deconstruction of a friendship "whose secrets hold the key to understanding some of the most significant events of the 20th century".

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game