Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
The narrator appears to be a close acquaintance of the President and his text is all the more credible that most of it pertains to events he personally attends or directly witnesses. Do you want to know how this biography originates? Read on page 2:
Just outside Morales’ office is a white foyer. The night when the writing of this book began, I stood there trying to discern the silhouettes moving around inside the main office through smoked glass. Once the president’s men had exited through one of the doors, Evo stepped out into that white foyer to greet me. Hello, Jefazo [big boss], he said. In his own personal language, his uses “big boss” as a form of flattery and a sign of respect. But the real big boss, the one in charge, is him. He greeted me, Bolivian style: a handshake followed by a half hug.
The rest of the book reads pretty much like this passage: a personally eye witnessed chronicle of Morales’ deeds from 1995 on since the two met in that year and from that date on until 2007, interviews, conversations, international trips across the world and domestic journeys to different parts of the country have forged an intimate relationship between the two men. As a result, except for chapter 2 where an earlier period in Evo’s life is based on second hand sources, the rest of the book reads as diary entries taken out of the author-reporter’s notebook. Next to weighty considerations on the part of Evo concerning relations with the USA, worries about his closeness with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or Cuba’s Fidel Castro, important national policies deliberated in Council of Ministers, planning sessions to derive the best effects from protests, road blocks, marches, it is marvelous to be able to glean trivia details as the following:
p. 14: After the ceremony, some Andean women…adorned the president with braided coca leaf garlands..drops of sweat fell down his forehead….In the helicopter, Evo realized that he had once again left the minister of health on the ground.
p. 21: He showed up without any trace of his position as president: no official car, bodygards, ministers, officials, or advisors.
Have you ever wondered where the name Evo came from? Expecting a baby girl, his parents had chosen the name Eva. But when a boy was borne, they
p. 31: finally settled on the strange name that results from swapping the [feminine] “a” with a [masculine] “:o”….[Eva -> Evo] Many years later, the president would ask himself why his parents hadn’t just called him Adam.
p. 104: …he had been to the movies only once in his life, to see a film about the soccer player Pele. “I was impressed by the size of the screen.”
p.132: ..he wrote coliseum with an “s”, but then hesitated and asked me whether it was spelled with a “c” or and “s.” He proceeded to run other spelling doubts by me. He did not get embarrassed.
Some people with a critical mind will say that the biography lacks sophistication and boggs down in banal or insignificant details. I personally prefer the text to be this way because I think through those apparently insignificant details, I can detect the real measure of a person. His humility, his defiance of protocole as well as of external signs of importance, his perfect security about his self worth patent in the use of self deprecating devices, all that shows clearly that the person has absolutely no complex, of inferiority or of superiority, that whatever he does, he does according to his own value system, regardless of what others may think about him.
In conclusion, the author has done a good job showing his readers how “a son of Bolivia can aspire to be seen as its father.” (p. 111). It was mainly through “leading by obeing, … by obeing the Bolivian people” (p.161) but most of all by showing how the “Indians can walk through parts of cities they had previously forbidden to enter.”(p.227)