Bourne’s book is based largely on interviews with people who have come into close contact with the Cuban dictator during his life, including surviving family members. These interviews have been supplemented by primary and secondary printed sources and by some material Bourne was permitted to use from the Cuban archives.
Psychiatrist Bourne sees great significance for Fidel’s later political career in the stigma of his illegitimate birth, in the forceful personality of Fidel’s self-made Spanish immigrant father, in his nouveau riche family background, in his long stays at boarding school, and in his Catholic high school education. In both Catholicism and Communism, the author suggests, Fidel Castro found a rigid and hierarchical structure to balance his own energetic and undisciplined personality.
Bourne sheds new light on Castro’s private life. We learn about Fidel’s first marriage, begun during his university days and dissolved during his imprisonment by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista; about the child born of this marriage; and about several of Castro’s brief romances. Bourne also tells us all that can be known about Fidel’s shadowy twenty-year relation-ship with his secretary, Celia Sanchez.
Contradicting Castro’s own declaration in 1961, Bourne argues that Castro, even during the years from 1956 through 1958 as the anti-Batista guerrilla chieftain in the Sierra Maestra, was not yet a convinced Marxist-Leninist. Although conceding that Castro had long been vaguely radical and somewhat anti-American, the author suggests that Castro did not definitely decide in favor of Communism until after his chilly reception by the Eisenhower Administration in April, 1959.
Bourne insists that Castro, despite his acceptance of Soviet hegemony in return for economic aid, is by no means merely a Soviet puppet. The Cuban leader’s intervention in Latin America and Africa, the author argues, owes more to Castro’s own inner compulsion to play a leading role in world politics than it does to any dictation from Moscow.
Not everyone will agree with Bourne’s attempt to give a psychiatric explanation of Castro’s actions as a political leader. Nevertheless, FIDEL is well worth reading: Bourne’s stirring account of Castro’s heroic struggle against Batista is itself worth the price of the book. By clearing away the underbrush of myths and misinformation concerning Castro’s life and political career, Bourne improves our understanding of one of the most controversial world leaders of our time.