Posted by: Sally Ingraham | September 29, 2010

Santa Evita

santa evitaby Tomas Eloy Martinez
translated by Helen Lane

He drove the truck along the avenues in silence. He shuddered. History: Was this what history was like? Could a person quietly enter and leave it? He felt light, as though he were inside another body. Perhaps nothing of what was apparently happening was happening at all. Perhaps history was not made up of realities but of dreams. People dreamed facts, and then writing invented the past. There was no such thing as life, only stories.

Here’s a story about a woman who entered history and was not able to leave it very quietly at all. Based on facts, with all the appearances of invention – ‘…the beginning of a true story that nonetheless seemed like a fable.

I loved this mix of fact and fiction, and the exploration of what (if anything) defines both. With an author who questions his role as the storyteller, and characters who are the invented but not necessarily less real versions of people who actually lived and breathed, and a story too fantastic to have been made up, this book absolutely writhed round in my hands. It could not be contained.

This book is loosely a revelation of Eva Peron’s life and death and death after life, the fascination that surrounded her metamorphosis from a poor B-list actress into the wife of the president of Argentina, and the adventures of her embalmed body after her death. Evita was a woman who could transform herself, but was equally well transformed by others – saint, mother, witch, and whore, whatever anyone wanted her to be. Feared and loved by more after her death than during it, her body became a political plaything – hidden, duplicated, stolen, buried, obsessed over by the men put in charge of its safety, hunted by the people who adored the woman it had been…

It’s an amazing tale, and Martinez tells it astonishingly well. It’s twisted and horrible and hilarious all at once – a fun and fascinating book. I was so pleased to once again be reading work by a Latin American writer, as I enjoyed so many books from this area of the world last year. Actually, there were quite a few references to some of the authors I read last year which made this one particularly fun for me. I wish I had more time to really dig into it, but it’s a crazy week for me… Suffice it to say that I’ve added a couple of movies about Evita to my Netflix list, and that I’ll definitely be reading more books by Martinez! The other members of our Non-Structured book group have some stellar posts about this one, collected here by Richard, who’s pick it was for this month. Join us in October for a reading of Tobias Wolff’s Old School!


  1. Seems like Santa Evita is becoming a winner all round, Sarah! (Unless Claire hates it, I suppose…) Anyway, I totally agree about the mix of fact and fiction, and how compelling all the comments on the nature of storytelling were. Looking forward to Old School and to next year’s list!!

  2. “Characters who are the invented but not necessarily less real versions of people who actually lived and breated.” What a great line, Sarah, and one that Eloy Martínez himself might have written! Glad you enjoyed this and can heartily recommend The Tango Singer (which sounds clichéd but it’s not) if you’re ever looking for another good read by this author. In the meantime, fine post!

  3. It’s so interesting how the perceptions of Evita vary from person to person, even today. You can find online communities that still treat her as if she was a saint.

  4. Saint. Or opportunistic whore. Both work here and I loved that. The notion of the self-written self lending ultimate power, authority. Looks like we all loved here so Yay! Wolff is one of my favorite short story writers so I look forward to this month.

  5. I have an award for you here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: