Friday, February 15, 2013
From the shelves of the Paco library
There’s an interesting new book out entitled Che! The Lost Diaries (Amazon link here). It’s the first novel published by David Carter, who, it turns out, lives right here in Fairfax, Virginia. I tracked down his phone number, gave him a call, and he graciously agreed to grant me an interview. We met over a couple of espressos at the local Starbucks, and Carter filled me in on the background of his book. Following is a transcript of the interview.
Paco: Oops! Sorry!
Carter [mopping espresso off his pants with a napkin]: It’s nothing. Do you always get wrist spasms like this when you’re carrying a cup of coffee?
Paco: More frequently than I’d care to admit. Maybe it’s the caffeine.
Paco: Anyway, thanks for granting me this interview. I read your book in one sitting, and it’s certainly a unique interpretation of Che Guevara. Much different than he’s been portrayed by his hagiographers, or even by some of his severest critics.
Carter: Frankly, I don’t have the talent to do a novel of serious satire that leaves the real subject more or less intact – that is to say, that permits the human target to remain genuinely recognizable as the historical original. My meat is farce, so I lampoon the target – in this case, Che Guevara – by placing him in front of a funhouse mirror. Yet, in an odd sort of way, I believe the reader gets a truer picture than he would if he only knew Che by the descriptions of his fans. My funhouse mirror, to continue the metaphor, throws into relief some of the many faults which so-called legitimate biographies airbrush out. In any event, I freely admit that, to truly enjoy the book, it helps to be able to imagine Che as a kind of revolutionary Bertie Wooster – without Wooster’s charm, of course, and without the steadying effects of a gentleman’s personal gentleman. There is no Bolshevik Jeeves in the novel.
Paco: How did you come to choose Che as the subject of your novel?
Carter: I used to be a regular commenter at a well-known blog, and I eventually moved from dropping a few sentences into the comments section to writing little skits and short stories featuring a variety of characters. My work attracted a small, but enthusiastic, following, so I kept expanding my repertoire. One day, the blogger linked to a story about Che, or maybe his diaries – I don’t remember what it was, exactly – and I was inspired to write a few fictional diary entries as a spoof. These were well received, so I wrote additional diary entries, from time to time. One of the commenters, Richard McEnroe, who turned out to be a publisher, emailed me and asked if I wanted to turn the stories into a book, and…well, here we are.
Paco: Was it a difficult book to write?
Carter: In some ways. For example, Che was such a singularly inept field commander that it wasn’t always easy to satirize him. One or two incidents in the book I thought I had dreamed up myself, only to subsequently discover that they had actually happened.
Paco: Did you do much in the way of historical research?
Carter: A fair amount. I read the genuine Bolivian diaries, and Humberto Fontova’s excellent piece of iconoclastic history, Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him, was very valuable as a source of information on Che’s career and his character. I also found a monograph on Che published by Major Donald R. Selvage of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College to be extremely helpful, with a wealth of details on the Bolivian venture.
Paco: Che portrays the relationship between the guerrilla leader and Fidel Castro to be strained, to say the least. Any truth to that characterization?
Carter: I think so. There’s plenty of evidence that Castro came to see Che as a loose cannon who, among other things, was endangering the Cuban-Soviet relationship. It’s not at all unlikely that Castro packed Che off to Bolivia just to be rid of him.
Paco: On a more tender theme, you posit a sexual relationship between Che and Tania, the one female member of Che’s guerrilla band.
Carter: Yes, I believe there was a sexual relationship between the two. Certainly some of Che’s comrades thought so. Tania was clearly infatuated with Che; however, I think Che simply used her, as he did everybody else. I play their sex scenes strictly for laughs, mostly just to underscore Che’s hypocrisy; he insisted on celibacy for his men during the Bolivian campaign.
Paco: Do you contemplate any sequels?
Carter: Well, prequels, perhaps. Che’s experience in the Congo would seem to be a goldmine of comic potential. I’d also like to write about Che’s initiation into Fidel Castro’s circle in Mexico and the early days of their association.
Paco: I’ll certainly be looking forward to future Che diaries, as I imagine a lot of people will.
Carter: Thanks. I hope a sufficient number of people will buy this first book to enable me to purchase a new hat.
Paco: That seems to be a pretty modest goal.
Carter: Ok, two hats. But, really, this ain’t War and Peace, you know.
Paco: Well, it’s starting to get a little crowded in here, so I guess we’d better wrap it up. Thanks again for the interview. Oops!
Carter [mopping more espresso off his pants]: Make that a new hat and a new pair of pants. And you’re welcome.
Update: Recommended by all the higher class blogs.