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Gary Hart comes out

time cover

The former Senator and ex-presidential candidate reveals that he's thriller writer John Blackthorn

By Andrew Ferguson

January 17, 2000
Web posted at: 12:32 p.m. EST (1732 GMT)

Here's an unlikely bit of news for an election year: politically, Gary Hart is dead, but Che Guevara isn't. O.K., so it's a little more complicated than that. Che is the hero of a just released political thriller from John Blackthorn, whose Sins of the Fathers was a mild success last year. Like the earlier book, I, Che Guevara (William Morrow; 369 pages; $24) is set in Cuba and carries a tantalizing tease on the book jacket: "John Blackthorn is the pseudonym of a political figure whose name is well known in international capitals and intelligence circles." Last week, as I, Che hit bookstores, the tease was up. John Blackthorn, it turns out, is Gary Hart, former Senator and two-time presidential candidate whose public career came to a spectacular halt in a 1987 sex scandal.

Now a lawyer specializing in international law, Hart has traveled several times to Cuba, often conveying messages unofficially between Fidel Castro and the Clinton Administration; hence the pseudonym. "I wanted to tell these fictional stories," he says, "but I didn't want to jeopardize any value I could add to my messenger role." He unveiled himself last week because "people were beginning to ask questions about Blackthorn's identity. I didn't want to dissemble, so we decided to come out."

I, Che rests on an unlikely premise: it is 1999, and Castro steps down and calls free elections in return for a lifting of the U.S. embargo. Erstwhile communists and right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami form opposing political parties, hoping to manipulate the populace to their own ends. But out of the mountain villages, a mysterious stranger suddenly appears, bearing an eerie resemblance to the legendary revolutionary who was assassinated in 1967. His message: Cubans can reclaim power over their own lives in a "radical democracy" without pollsters, socialists or corporate capitalists. As the movement grows, the evil forces dispatch assassins to kill its prophet.

Che Guevara, reborn democrat? Unlikely, sure, but so is Gary Hart, novelist. His characters wade through the plot as if it were molasses. Hart tries to goose things along with lengthy quotes from Che's diary: "The revolutionary is a visionary. He sees things other people don't see, the 'practical ones.' The 'practical' person operates within the boundaries of what is. The revolutionary sees what ought to be." A few hundred pages of this, and the reader starts rooting for the assassins.

During his years of political exile, Hart developed a radical if unoriginal critique of American democracy, an ideal irredeemably corrupted by money, cynicism and campaign trickery. Here, his fictional hero is his mouthpiece. Hart could have eliminated the middleman--Che, in this case--and written a straightforward tract on his theory of radical democracy. Sure enough: "That's my next book," he says. But without a thriller wrapped around them--and without John Blackthorn--his ideas may be a tougher sell.

--By Andrew Ferguson


Cover Date: January 24, 2000

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