viernes, 24 de septiembre de 2010

Santa Evita

Santa Evita (Punto de Lectura, 2005)
por Tomás Eloy Martínez
Argentina, 1995

"Incómodo estar vivo/muerto al mismo tiempo".
Augusto Roa Bastos, Yo el Supremo, 1973

"En esta novela poblada por personajes reales, los únicos a los que no conocí fueron Evita y el Coronel.  A Evita la vi sólo de lejos, en Tucumán, una mañana de fiesta patria; del coronel Moori Koenig encontré un par de fotos y unos pocos rastros.  Los diarios de la época lo mencionan de modo escueto y, con frecuencia, despectivo".
Tomás Eloy Martínez, Santa Evita, 1995

No tengo la menor idea de lo que sea falso y lo que sea verdad en esta obra, pero eso no me importa.  Me encantó.  A pesar de presentarse como una especie de historia novelada en cuanto a lo que pasó al cuerpo de Eva Perón después de su muerte, embalsamamiento y secuestro en los años '50, Santa Evita realmente llama la atención a las fronteras entre la historia y el mito, entre la realidad y la ficción, de manera genial.  En lo que a veces se parece a un laberinto borgesiano construido sobre una basa de verdades, mitad-verdades, mentiras, y chismes extravagantes, Eloy Martínez hace alarde de narrar una historia que es totalmente increíble --la gira mundial que hizo el cuerpo de Evita después de su "secuestro" por parte del ejército argentino-- al mismo tiempo que puebla su novela con personajes reales y hechos históricos confiables.  El resultado es una "historia verdadera" (ojo) que juega con nuestras expectativas en cuanto a lo que esperamos en las biografías y las novelas.

En líneas generales, el hilo narrativo sobre lo que pasa a las cuatro "Evitas" (o sea, la momia oficial autorizada por Perón y las tres copias en cera creadas por un embalsamador gallego) ocupa el primer término.  Con una inversión del género de la furta sacra, es una historia divertidísima en cual los secuestradores de la difunta están perseguidos por una mala suerte parecida a la que siguió a Lord Carnavon después del descubrimiento de la tumba de Tutankamón.  También es una historia malsana en lo que refiere al "amor obsesivo" que lleva el Coronel Moori Koenig, el encargado de secuestrar al cadáver de Evita, por la primera dama difunta (que se llamaría Ella, EM [Esa Mujer], o Persona según las circunstancias).  Qué lástima, pues, que no tenga tiempo para hablar del igualmente pintoresco "Comando de la Venganza" o de las flores y las velas que aparecen milagrosamente siempre que el cuerpo de Evita se traslada de un lugar a otro.

Al fondo, por supuesto, hay una crónica más o menos tradicional acerca del ascenso de Eva Duarte de Perón y de cómo su vida vino a ser asociada con el destino de una nación por sus admiradores y sus detractores.  No he leído mucho sobre la Evita histórica, pero pienso que Eloy Martínez explica la manera en cual la gente la amó o la odió bastante bien.  Finalmente, en otro plano, hay un tercer centro de atención en la obra: el donde el novelista habla de cómo su obsesión con el misterio del cuerpo de Evita se convertió en ser la novela que leemos.  El donde el autor nos pregunta (162-163): "Si la historia es --como parece-- otro de los géneros literarios, ¿por qué privarla de la imaginación, el desatino, la indelicadeza, la exageración y la derrota que son la materia prima sin la cual no se concibe la literatura?"  En resumen, una novela argentina típica.  Un gran placer.  (http://www.puntodelectura.com/)
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Santa Evita (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)
by Tomás Eloy Martínez [translated from the Spanish by Helen Lane]
Argentina, 1995

"It's awkward being alive and dead at the same time."
Augusto Roa Bastos [translated by Helen Lane], I the Supreme, 1973

"In this novel peopled by real characters, the only ones I never met were Evita and the Colonel.  I saw Evita only from a distance, in Tucumán, one morning on a national holiday; as for Colonel Moori Koenig, I found a couple of photos and a few traces of him.  The newspapers of the period mention him openly and, often, disparagingly."
Tomás Eloy Martínez [translated by Helen Lane], Santa Evita, 1995

I don't have the slightest idea how much is true and how much is false in this work, but that really doesn't matter to me.  I loved it!  In spite of passing itself off as a sort of novelized history having to do with the strange tale of what befell Eva Perón's corpse after her death, embalming, and kidnapping in the 1950s, Santa Evita really zeroes in on the boundaries between history and myth, between reality and fiction, in an inspired way.  In what at times resembles a Borgesian labyrinth constructed out of various truths, half truths, lies, and outlandish gossip, Eloy Martínez makes a great show out of narrating an absolutely unbelievable tale--the world tour undertaken by Evita's corpse after its "kidnapping" by the Argentinean army--while peopling it with real characters and historically trustworthy facts.  The result's a "true story" (careful now!) that plays with our expectations in terms of what we might expect from biographies and novels.

In general terms, the narrative thread about what happens to the four "Evitas" (i.e. the official mummy authorized by Perón and the three wax copies made by a Spanish embalmer) occupies center stage in the work.  A wild inversion of the furta sacra genre, it's a delicious story in which the kidnappers of the deceased all seem to be haunted by the sort of horrific bad luck that plagued Lord Carnavon after the discovery of King Tut's tomb.  It's also an ickily morbid story having to do with the "obsessive love" that Colonel Moori Koenig, the man put in charge of the kidnapping of Evita's cadaver, begins to feel for the departed first lady (who is variously known as She, EM [Esa Mujer or That Woman], or Person according to the circumstances) over time.  What a shame, then, that I don't have time to write about the equally colorful "Commando of Vengeance" squad or of the flowers and votive candles that miraculously appear whenever Evita's body is moved from one place to another.

In the background, of course, there's the more or less traditional chronicle about Eva Duarte de Perón's rise to power and about how her life came to be associated with the fate of a nation by her enemies and admirers alike.  Although I haven't read much else about the real life Evita to date, I think Eloy Martínez does a pretty good job at explaining why she was both loved and loathed in her own time.  Finally, in yet another plane, there's a third center of attention in the work--the one in which the novelist owns up to how his own obsession with the mystery of Evita's corpse was transformed into the novel that we're discussing at the moment.  And the one in which he asks us (129): "If history--as appears to be the case--is just another literary genre, why take away from it the imagination, the foolishness, the indiscretion, the exaggeration, and the defeat that are the raw material without which literature is inconceivable?"  In short, a typical Argentinean novel.  Lots of fun.  (http://www.randomhouse.com/)

Evita

Aunque Eloy Martínez es muy juguetón como narrador y el argumento de Santa Evita es suficientemente jugoso en si mismo, me gustó la metaficción sobre "la realidad" y la representación de la realidad dentro de la panorama de las letras argentinas acá.  Por ejemplo, la escritura de Arlt, Borges, y Cortázar hacen entradas en escenas que llaman la atención a los vínculos entre los mundos de la literatura y la política.  Dado que el libro trata de una cierta época histórica, no es sorprendente ver que las sombras de los desparecidos y de los exiliados están presentes también (se notará que el cuerpo de Evita anticipa los años de los desaparecidos en Argentina y que el novelista fue forzado pasar muchos años en el extranjero durante la dictadura militar de los setenta).  A continuación, véase dos ejemplos más sobre la intersección entre la literatura y la política en la novela en estos párrafos que tienen que ver con un relato de Rodolfo Walsh ("Esa Mujer") que apareció en 1965:

En los diez años que siguieron al secuestro, nadie publicó una sola línea sobre el cadáver de Evita.  El primero que lo hizo fue Rodolfo Walsh en "Esa mujer", pero la palabra Evita no aparece en el texto.  Se la merodea, se la alude, se la invoca, y sin embargo nadie la pronuncia.  La palabra no dicha era en ese momento la descripción perfecta del cuerpo que había desaparecido" (339).

Tal como él lo habia advertido en un breve prólogo, "Esa mujer"  fue escrito no como un cuento sino como la transcripción de un diálogo con Moori Koenig en su departamento de Callao y Santa Fe.  De aquel encuentro tenso, Walsh había sacado en limpio sólo un par de datos: el cadáver había sido enterrado fuera de la Argentina, de pie, "en un jardín donde llueve día por medio".  Y el Coronel, en las interminables vigilias junto al cuerpo, se había dejado llevar por una pasión necrofílica.  Todo lo que el cuento decía era verdadero, pero había sido publicado como ficción y los lectores queríamos creer también que era ficción.  Pensábamos que ningún desvarío de la realidad podía tener cabida en la Argentina, que se vanagloriaba de ser cartesiana y europea (342).
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Although Eloy Martínez is a very playful narrator and Santa Evita's plot is sufficiently juicy in and of itself, I just loved the metafiction touches having to do with "reality" and the representation of reality within the panorama of Argentinean letters.  For example, the writings of Arlt, Borges, and Cortázar all make cameos here in scenes that call attention to the links between the world of literature and the world of politics.  Given that the book deals with a certain historic time and place, it's not surprising to see that the shadows of "the disappeared" and the exiles are also present (it will be noted that Evita's corpse foreshadows the years of "the disappeared" in Argentina and that the novelist himself was forced to spend many years abroad as an exile during the military dictatorship of the '70s).  Below, you'll see two more examples of the intersection between literature and politics in the novel in two paragraphs that have to do with a story by Rodolfo Walsh ("That Woman") that appeared in 1965:

"In the ten years that followed the hijack, nobody published a single line about Evita's corpse.  The first one to do so was Rodolfo Walsh in 'That Woman,' but the word Evita doesn't appear in it.  The text prowls about it, alludes to it, invokes it, and yet nobody ever utters it.  The word left unspoken was at that moment the perfect description of the body that had disappeared" (281).

"As he had put the reader on notice in a brief foreward, 'That Woman' was written not as a short story but as the transcription of a dialogue with Moori Koenig in his apartment on the corner of Callao and Santa Fe.  During that tense meeting, Walsh had managed to get only a couple of things out of him: the corpse had been buried outside of Argentina, standing up, 'in a garden where it rains every other day.'  And the Colonel, sitting alongside the corpse during his endless watches, had allowed himself to be carried away by a necrophiliac passion.  Everything in his account was true, but it had been published as fiction, and we readers also wanted to believe that it was fiction.  We thought that in Argentina, which prided itself on being Cartesian and European, there was no place for any delirious notions of reality" (283-284 [all English translations by Helen Lane]).
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Haz clic acá para leer a "Esa mujer", de Rodolfo Walsh./Click above to read Rodolfo Walsh's "Esa mujer" ["That Woman"] in Spanish.

Tomás Eloy Martínez

14 comentarios:

  1. I love this line: "It's awkward being alive and dead at the same time." I have always felt that way. But seriously, you can see, with cult figures that no one lets die (also Elvis comes to mind) that such people are the ultimate Schroedinger proof of po-mo. Delightful review, as always!

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  2. I loved all the references to other Latin American writers - many of whom I've read, (a fact that blows my mind considering that a year ago I didn't even know who Borges was!) The exploration of history and myth, and the validity of an author's word once it's written was fascinating to me. I liked a whole lot of other things too - great pick once again and excellent review. I'll be back with more thoughts once I've gotten my own review squared away.

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  3. Iloved his prose and writing style ,he lived through the peron years so it feels so realstic ,and hop your enjoying roa Bastos I m going read it when I find a copy ,all the best stu

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  4. Gracias por la lectura tan acertada de la novela. A él le hubiese encantado este primer comentario: "No tengo la menor idea de lo que sea falso y lo que sea verdad en esta obra, pero eso no me importa."

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  5. *Jill: I think you really might have liked this novel given your fondness for history and your appreciation of Schrödinger's cat style pomo (note that both Elvis and Evita had their own Colonels as well). In any event, thanks for the kind words about the post!

    *Sarah: Really glad you enjoyed Santa Evita and also glad you enjoyed so many of the textual references after your Latin American literature immersion thing last year! On a related note, please make sure you check out Amy's post because she talks about some intertextual stuff Eloy Martínez pulled off with Sylvia Plath that's kind of mind-boggling (in a good way). In the meantime, I'm eagerly looking forward to your post!

    *Stu: I love how the novel feels realistic and surrealistic at the same time--so much to like here! The Roa Bastos is fascinating so far, but it's kind of a tough read because of the way it was written. Sarah ("tuulenhaiven" above) wrote a great review of it on her blog last year, and you should definitely check out that post if you need any more incentive to find the book faster. Cheers!

    *Ezekiel: Primero, mis condolencias por la gran pérdida. Pero muchísimas gracias por la visita y el comentario: estoy re contento pensar que a su padre le hubiese encantado ese comentario mío. ¡Qué librazo! ¡Un saludo cordial!

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  6. I think you might really enjoy reading more about Evita. There's a good biography by Fraser and Navarro that covers a lot of the non-metafiction ground. :-)

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  7. Tomás Eloy Martinez me deslumbró con La novela de Perón, impresionante historia del general controvertido y su séquito de malandras. Estoy seguro que Santa evita debe ser igual de apasionante sino mejor, por lo que escribes. Otra novela que leí de Eloy Martínez fue El vuelo de la reyna, ambientada en el poder, también, pero esta vez, de los medios de comunicación, un tema muy actual en argentina.
    Grande Richard, seguidor incondicional de la literatura argentina. abrazo

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  8. In a really inspired way! And I also used the word "playful" in my post too as that really stood out to me and made it such a great read. So funny but so skillfully built that the humor never detracted from the larger more serious points. Fiction and truth, cult of personality, metafiction - all receive due attention as well as due derision. All examined but none successfully capture the essence of the woman. Too cool.

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  9. *Amy: Thanks for the tip--and for the laugh about a book that covers the "non-metafiction ground" for a change! Cheers!

    *Mario: De Eloy Martínez, había leído El cantor de tango y El vuelo de la reina anteriormente. Gracias a tu sugerencia, pienso que La novela de Perón va a ser el próximo libro por el autor. En cuanto a otras novelas argentinas, estoy decidiendo entre Aira y Mempo Giardinelli al momento (dos novelas cortas) y unos escritores argentinos jovenes para la primera semana en octubre. Gracias por visitar y por las recomendaciones librescas. ¡Un abrazo!

    *Frances: How could one not use the word "playful" in regards to Santa Evita? Anyway, glad you enjoyed this so much and thanks again for bringing up the cult of personality stuff. Such an obvious and important thing within the grand scheme of things in the novel and yet one I completely overlooked in my own post, so dazzled was I by the literary shenanigans. Was also tickled by the comedic aspects as well--such a funny book!

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  10. Sorry to be late on this one, Richard, but it ended up being so cool & thought-provoking! I like your phrase "zeroes in on the boundaries between history and myth, between reality and fiction" - to me that was the big draw here, Martínez's extended meditation on the two-way relationship between text and reality.

    I also (predictably) LOVED the intertextuality & spent a good deal of my post thinking about the "Death and the Compass" references in the first half of the novel. I'm also glad you point out the foreshadowing of the disappeared, as that wasn't something I picked up on. Great pick!

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  11. No he leído este libro, aunque sí lo tengo en la lista de importantes jejeje.
    De Tomás Eloy me encantaban sus artículos en los diarios de España, siempre eran muy interesantes, cómo se extraña.
    Me ha encantado tu entrada.
    Un saludo
    Teresa

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  12. *Emily: I like that "two-way relationship between text and reality" descriptor you came up with--what a great capsule summary of one of the things that really drives this novel! On the sad symbolic connection between Evita's missing corpse and the disappeared, there were a couple of too close for comfort moments when the military types were talking about dumping Evita's body out of an airplane, into the river, etc. Kinda tough to read. On the more positive side of things, though, both Eloy Martínez and now you have me terribly interested in revisiting that Borges story. Should be a blast! P.S. Glad you liked the pick!

    *Teresa: Aunque he leído muy poco del periodismo de Eloy Martínez, no me sorprende saber que sus artículos eran buenos. Gracias por recomendarme de esa faceta de su trabajo y muchísimas gracias también por tus palabras tan amables. ¡Saludos!

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  13. Ooh, this sounds like a prime candidate for the LatAm project. Along with, oh, I don't know, about half of everything that appears on your blog! When I get back home I need to actually sit down and come up with some kind of manageable list because if I keep reading your posts it will just be "oh and that...and that...and...that..."

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  14. *Nicole: Very belated thanks (sorry about that) for your super nice comment! I think Santa Evita would make a great addition to your Lat Am reading project, esp. given all the Borges you've been reading this year. Really funny meta stuff to be found throughout the novel.

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