cover image My First Life

My First Life

Hugo Chávez, with Ignacio Ramonet, trans. from the Spanish by Ann Wright. Verso, $45 (640p) ISBN 978-1-78478-383-9

The late Chávez, president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013, emerged as a powerful and eloquent opponent of imperialism and neoliberalism, particularly of the variety he associated with the U.S., and aligned his government with those of Marxist and socialist states throughout the Americas. In so doing, he earned the admiration of many and the enmity of others, both at home and abroad. This volume, based on a series of interviews with sociologist Ramonet, conducted between 2008 and 2011, immerses the reader in the most mundane details of Chávez’s fascinating life, including Chávez’s year as an altar boy, his favorite baseball team in his youth, and the daily routine of the tank unit in which he served during the 1970s. Frustratingly, the narrative ends at the moment that Chávez took office as president. In addition to the dreariness of the minutiae, Ramonet’s admiration of Chávez verges on the comical, as he praises not only his intelligence, idealism, and determination but his “beautiful calm baritone voice,” his abilities as a “natural pedagogue” and “exceptional orator,” and even his knack for cooking and housecleaning. The result is a sort of hagiography that offers readers a welter of often trivial details without allowing them a clearer understanding of Chávez’s significant contributions to Venezuela and beyond. (Sept.)