16 March 2008

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

A collection of short stories which reaches out and wrings compassion from my heart, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara is one of the few books I've immediately wanted to include in one of my classes to help my students explore that current educational trend of global education. The settings of the stories range from Haiti to Sierra Leone to Columbia, and these settings drive plots which reveal the human situation in the midst of political and social upheaval. Sometimes funny and sometimes brutally sad, each story drew me in, made me question the good and evil in terrorists and freedom fighters, in tyrants and heroes, labels which are entirely the result of perspective.

Outside of being a wonderful read, this collection also gave me a rather disturbing guilt slap. As I was reading the stories, falling into my brain were names, ideas, places, and events that had very little, or sometimes no, personal reference: Guevara, Thatcher, Visser, the MURC, Bay of Pigs, pan-German press, Gedes, Teutonic mysticism, Salone, Salomon, Papa Doc, and so much more. While pieces of information swirled to mind from some (not all) of these references, I was much humbled and a bit disgusted by how little I know about the struggles of other places. And I was further frustrated by the fact that much of the information I do know is the result of watching movies rather than any sort of reality-based news system.

The question of how much I should know - or how involved I should get - I have not answered. And of course, the minute I start thinking about how little I know, but how that tiny knowledge make me feel such a deep melancholy, I start wondering if I can do anything about it. I don't have any deep desire to run off and join the Peace Corp or the Red Cross or any other organization which would place in me in these tortured foreign countries. Dreams of heroically putting my life on the line for the betterment of an entire society are quickly replaced by a love of my current life. And this replacement, this desire, partially for comfort and partially for personal happiness, can not erase the horrific images of oppression, death, rape, poverty, starvation, and mutilation, from my brain.

Perhaps I should not read books such as this. While I believe that feeling a book deeply, especially when that influx of emotion is directly related to something in reality, is primarily positive, I am coming to see more and more that when this feeling has no outlet, it can transform into something else. So my feelings of compassion for the suffering is transformed into immeasurable guilt - typically forgotten quickly, but debilitating for a short time. Yet, I still feel that having an awareness, even if through books, of the world around you is a necessary part of being alive. The knowledge gained, even if it just a glimpse of the whole truth, helps a person to better understand the reality he or she is a part of.

But does a basic knowledge of the horrors afflicted upon people and the subsequent sadness I feel absolve me from the guilt of inaction?

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid


  1. I can definitely appreciate how compassion for something or someone far away can turn to guilt- even if that guilt is fleeting. Humans have great capacities for both caring for "everybody" and taking care of just our own- both are beneficial, but they do conflict. I would hope that among the books about oppression, death, rape, etc., there are a few stories that remind us that wonderful things are being done, and when we read them we can be equally moved.
    As for knowing vs. not knowing, I will always say that it is better to know than not to know. Eat the apple. Take the red pill.

  2. Apples are yummy and pills make everything better.

  3. Trisha this review is BRILLIANT. As you know, it inspired me to write a response post! In which I cover pretty much anything I'd want to say - except I have experienced exactly this reader's guilt more times than I can count. And I agree - apples and pills, oh my!


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