Santa Evita

santa evitaThis is an odd book. It was buried on book mountain and I can’t remember what prompted me to buy it. Perhaps it was one of those sent to me by a book club that I never bothered to send back. Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez (trans. Helen Lane) is a story about what happened to the body of Eva Peron after she died.

It’s based on some fact, the papers of various people involved, some parts are fiction, and some parts are the ruminations of the author on the process of writing the book. Which parts are which are isn’t always clear, fact and fiction are smoothly blended. Apparently the germination of the story was over many years and it was a difficult book to write.

After Eva Peron died of cancer her body was embalmed. The Argentine Secret Service had been spying on her for years and after the Peron government fell, they took charge of the body. Three copies were made. The government didn’t want Eva’s burial place to become a shrine and the cult of Evita to have a focal point for the opposition. Care of the body was entrusted to a colonel in the Secret Service. Mysterious events seem to happen around Evita and she has a strange impact on those to whom her care is entrusted.

Santa Evita is a strange book. The story itself is a weird one, encompassing the need of people to have heroes, and how fame and grief interact. However, it’s not really about Evita. Most of it focuses on the Colonel who spied on her while she was alive and took care of her embalmed body when she was dead. It’s an exploration of secrecy and madness. It’s a beautifully written (and translated) book, mystical and surreal, and proving reality makes much less sense than fiction. I found the parts about Martínez’ writing process fascinating. It made me really think about the structure of the novel and how that might be more flexible than commercial fiction often allows. This is a strange and wonderful book.

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