Book Review: Fidel Castro “My Life”


Book Title: Fidel Castro – My Life
Edited by: Ignacio Ramonet
Translated by: Andrew Hurley
Published by: Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books, 2007
724 pages, hardback book

Cover Introduction: "For years people have tried to persuade the leader of the Cuban Revolution to tell his own life story. Here finally in a series of probing interviews, Fidel Castro has broken his silence.

Fidel Castro’s life began on a sugar plantation eighty years ago. He went on to graduate as a lawyer, lead a failed revolution against the Batista regime, be tried and imprisoned, flee to Mexico, return to start a guerrilla war and, in 1959, at the age of thirty-two, march triumphantly on Havana. He soon became Prime Minister and has remained in power ever since, surviving nine US presidents and countless assassination attempts along the way.
In this book, Castro describes his life from the 1930s all the way up to the present day. He discusses everything: his parents, his earliest influences, the beginnings of the revolution, his relationship with Che Guevara, the Bay of Pigs, the missile crisis, the Carter years, Cuban migration to the US. Ignacio Ramonet also challenges Castro to discuss his views on a number of controversial questions from human rights and freedom of the press to the repression of homosexuality and the survival of the death penalty, and asks Castro to give his frank opinion of other leaders, alive and dead, including George Bush and Tony Blair.
This is an opportunity for both supporters and opponents alike to read, in his own words, the life story of one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century. His position in history is guaranteed – this is his perspective".
Ignacio Ramonet spent one hundred hours interviewing Fidel Castro between January 2003 and December 2005. Ramonet has then edited the interview transcripts into twenty eight chapters generally following chronological order.
The original interviews were held in Spanish and the book was first published as Fidel Castro: Biografia a dos voces in 2006. The book that I read was the Andrew Hurley translation dated 2007. As I speak no Spanish, I cannot comment on the accuracy of translation but Andrew Hurley has added a four-page note towards the back of the book entitled: A Note on the Text and Translation. In my opinion, Andrew Hurley has done an excellent job in translation as the book flows and is easy to read. There are a few paragraphs where it becomes difficult to understand the point being made but, in the main, the reader would not be aware that the book had not originally been written in English.
The Introduction, A Hundred Hours with Fidel, outlines how the book came about and gives a good historical perspective on the second half of the twentieth century. Ignacio Ramonet discusses the time spent with Fidel Castro and makes his own observations of the man being interviewed. 
Ignacio Ramonet’s style reminds me of David Barsamian’s in his collaborations with Noam Chomsky. The interviewer’s questions / points are concise and are in bold text. Fidel Castro’s responses vary from a couple of lines to a couple of pages. I suspect that some of Fidel’s responses may have been much longer but Ramonet’s editing is very clever and I found that my mind was fixed on the text and rarely wandered. Each chapter is approximately twenty five pages long and I would always try to read a complete chapter each time I opened the book. Ramonet has a great interviewing style and I got the impression that he did push the difficult points as hard as he could without appearing rude or ignorant.
There is no doubt that Fidel Castro is a very intelligent man and this intelligence is apparent throughout the book. Each response appears to have been very carefully thought through. I found that his responses to questions about the earlier years, the attack on Moncada Barracks through to the taking of Havana and the early years of the revolution, could be quite defensive and he rarely admitted to any doubts / errors on his part. This changes as the interviews move on to a more contemporaneous time and Fidel questions on many occasions as to whether the right decisions were taken. I was surprised by the openness he shows in the last chapter, After Fidel, What?, as he talks about the theft and corruption that has plagued Cuba since it partially opened its economy and runs two different currencies.
Fidel Castro is very proud of what the Cuban Revolution has achieved in the fields of education, medicine, aid to the third world, race relations in Cuba, sporting achievements and the fight against imperialism. He believes that Cuba is now a much fairer society and that the people will not allow the reversal of the revolution.
The book contains about sixty photographs, the early years in black and white and the more recent in colour. There is a beautiful photograph of Fidel Castro meeting Nelson Mandela; the look of joy on the face of Mandela can be nothing but genuine.
The book ends with very detailed sections entitled: Some Key Dates in the Life of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution (1926 – 2007) and Notes.
I loved reading this book and was sad when I came to the end. Personally, I would rate it up there with my favourite books of all time – Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky and A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Probably the best thing that I can say about this book is that achieves everything that it set out to do as detailed in the Cover Introduction which is written out in full at the start of this review.
John Andrews
21 August 2008

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