Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tomás Eloy Martínez

Argentine writer Tomás Eloy Martínez died in Buenos Aires a week ago Sunday from a brain tumor. His name may not be familiar to most Americans, but his writing--in particular his book Santa Evita--was very familiar to me because the information he provided in it about the "afterlife" of Eva Perón was key background for my latest novel, The Big Wake-Up.

As his New York Times obituary notes:
Perhaps nowhere more than in Mr. Martínez’s novel “Santa Evita” did fact and fancy conspire to capture the slippery reality of Argentina. The book follows the bizarre but true wanderings of Eva Perón’s embalmed corpse after her death from cancer in 1952.

After General Perón was overthrown, the new government took pains to hide Eva’s body, which they feared might be used by the opposition to rally support. Over the next two decades, the corpse was spirited around Argentina, off to Rome and eventually to Madrid, where it reposed in splendor in General Perón’s home, before making its way back to Argentina.

At the same time (this part is also true), several decoy corpses, fashioned from wax, fiberglass and other materials and said to look remarkably like the real thing, were making contrapuntal journeys.
Read more about the "story behind the story" of The Big Wake-Up in the post I did on the topic for The Rap Sheet. Read more about Mr. Martínez in his obit from The Independent.

I feel compelled to offer a morbid postscript: this is the second writer whom I quoted in The Big Wake-Up who has died in the few months since the book was published in November. The first was J.D. Salinger, whose quote from Catcher in the Rye I used as an epigraph:
Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.
Martínez is quoted by my character Chris Duckworth outside the crypt where Duckworth and private investigator August Riordan discover Evita's body. Duckworth notes that Martínez has described Evita as:
the Robin Hood of the 20th century … the Cinderella of the tango and the Sleeping Beauty of Latin America.
And as he knocks on the crypt door, he declares it's time for her "big wake-up."

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