Buenos Aires and Evita

The Tango Singer, Tomas Eloy Martinez, 2006

Buenos Aires Skyline

Florida Buenos Aires
This novel is an homage to Jorge Luis Borges, the tango singer, and Buenos Aires. Following are quotes from the book about Buenos Aires:

I was surprised that Buenos Aires was so majestic from the second or third story up wards and so dilapidated at street level, as if the splendor of the past had remained suspended in the heights and refused to descend or disappear.

Colombo Detail

Colombo Detail Two

Its only beauty is what the human imagination attributes to it. It’s not surrounded by sea and hills like Hong Kong and Nagasaki, nor does it lie on a trade route along which civilization has navigated for centuries, like London, Paris, Florence, Geneva, Prague, and Vienna. No traveler arrives in Buenos Aires en route to somewhere else. Beyond the city there is no somewhere else…Only a city that had denied so much beauty can have, even in adversity, such an affecting beauty.

Santa Evita, Tomas Eloy Martinez, 1996

Martinez wrote The Peron Novel in 1985 exploring the rise and fall of Generalissimo Juan Peron. He says in an interview for New Perspective’s Quarterly:

In The Peron Novel there is some reality. But Santa Evita—about Eva Peron—is an invention completely. I tried to switch the idea of new journalism. The new journalists report real facts in a literary way. In Santa Evita I invent facts as if the facts were written by journalists.

Balcony

The old saying that fact is stranger than fiction may not apply when referring to writers from Latin America. Enigmatically Martinez quotes Oscar Wilde “The only duty we have toward history is to rewrite it.” For a novel, the level and depth of research is truly extraordinary. So how much is made up and how much is real? Much of the material comes from first and second hand memories of events 50-70 years ago. As with Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, the memories of different people witnessing the same events may be very different, even immediately after the event, to say nothing of the effects of the passage of time. The author – narrator reads everything written on Evita, views the film and newsreel footage, and listens to recordings of her radio broadcasts. He researches military archives. He treats the Opera Evita (Broadway and film hit) as valid as any other source.

Evita Tomb

Santa Evita focuses primarily on the fate of Evita’s body after her death. Even the previously known facts are bizarre to say the least. Peron hired Dr. Pedro Ara to embalm the body which remained in Ara’s laboratory three years until the fall of Peron in 1955. The whereabouts of the body after 1955 were unknown until 1971 when the government admitted that it had been buried in Milan under the name Maria Maggi next to the body of musician Carlo Maggi who knew Evita when she first came to Buenos Aires. The body was returned to Peron in Madrid in 1971 and after his death was returned to Buenos Aires by Peron’s widow Isabel. Her tomb today is so secure it is said to be able to withstand a nuclear blast.

Evita Recoleta

In Santa Evita Dr. Ara is concerned that the body will be stolen so creates three wax duplicates. They are so perfect, only an x-ray can detect the real body. In 1955 the new government orders Colonel Moori Koenig, a German born army intelligence and security officer, to bury the body in a secret grave. When Koenig discovers four bodies in Ara’s laboratory he decides to bury or hide each one separately. The duplicates are buried without a hitch but a fire and mob near the site of Evita’s hiding place forces Koenig to keep the body in his truck. The next morning, flowers and candles decorate the truck. Koenig decides the Evita’s ghost or spirit is manipulating events and starts a many year game of hide and seek with the body. Whenever the candles and flowers show up, he moves the body. As Koenig loses his mind, A new security agent is assigned to take the body to Europe and suddenly the Evita cult starts reporting bodies arriving in ports all over Europe. Is this fantasy or is the government secretly moving the duplicates?

Wikipedia’s entry on Eva Peron treats Santa Evita and the body duplicates as if they are fact. Be careful what you invent.

A final set of witnesses comes to Martinez at the end of the novel to resolve the loose ends and Santa Evita ends with a consistent thread. Otherwise the readers might be tempted to lynch the author.

Mario Vargas Llosa gives high praise to this work.

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