Eva’s childhood is somewhat surrounded in mystery since she herself deliberately tried to erase all traces of her past, other than the fact she was of humble birth. Her autobiography, La Razon de Mi Vida, contained no references to any childhood events, occurances, or locations. In fact, Eva even changed the date of her birth from 1919 to 1922. I do not believe this was female vanity but she had a personal and political reason to do this. Since Peron was about to marry her at this time– it was 1945– she had to change the date of her birth so she would not be considered a child born in adultery.
Eva was born in 1919 and was the last of five children. Her father left her mother(her mother was his mistress as opposed to his wife) the next year and she never saw him again. In 1923, she is thought to have been badly burnt in an accident, however, the only biographer to have stated this is Tomas Eloy Martinez in his very bizarre, jarring novel Santa Evita.
Her father died in 1926 in an accident and when her mother insisted on going to the funeral, it was likely the first time Eva left Los Toldos, her village. The funeral seems to have had a big impact on Eva, and should have, since she was only seven at the time, a very impressionable age and it was likely the first time she realized her mother and family were very poorly thought of.
She is thought to have left Los Toldos for Junin at the age of 11, in 1930. Junin was barren for the young, dreaming Eva. In this sense I can relate to her since I grew up in a small town in Ohio that also did not encourage my dreams to be a writer nor did not have many cultural activities. In this sense, when I wrote of Eva’s desire to leave Junin, I related completely.
Eva did not have much schooling– she left in 6th grade. But that did not mean she was not intelligent in other ways. Contrary to many biographers, I personally think Eva was a good actress or at the very least, a very good speaker. During her school days, Eva loved poetry and reciting it for her class and her teachers also said she was a good poet. Her classmates appear to have thought so as well.
The Woman with the Whip was really the first major biography to be published about Evita outside of Argentina. Many Evitists deny there is any truth in this biography, and have rightly stated that Mary Main writes about Evita as though she personally knew her on an intimate level. Indeed, at times it reads as more of a tabloid than a biography. At one point, Main writes ‘perhaps the only real emotion she could feel was hate.’ Was Eva vengeful? You bet! Was she ruthless? Absolutely. But to work 18 hours a day at her Foundation– you cannot do that and wear yourself to death if you do not truly care about the people she cared about. Some have said the poor were props to Eva, and there are rumors that Eva did not truly use some of the schools she built. However, this cannot be proven because the Anti Peronist government that rose after Peron fell from power in 1955 destroyed most of her works. With that said though, if Argentina did not maintain those hospitals or schools and allowed them to rot, Eva cannot be blamed.
Mary Main describes also the Anglo Argentine culture which she was from in the beginning of the book and from this extent, her anger is justified since the Peronists were committing atrocities against the upper and middle classes simply because she happened to have money. The police likely did step out of their bounds. Was Evita involved? The records are sketchy, but– even while Main states ‘there is no proof’ – the idea that Eva was ignorant of the disappearences of her enemies is not possible. Mary Main is right here, for once.
In general, this is a quick read, as many tabloids are. It has had many editions and the Evita in this biography is the basis for the Evita in the musical– complete with Eva running off with Magaldi. (Sometimes the tango singer is differently named in biographies based on the Black Myth.) If you can get the 1980 edition, since this book was first published when Eva was still alive, I recommend it, although this book is not so much about Evita as it is about Mary Main’s reaction to Peronism and Evita as the figurehead. However I still recommend it so one can understand the Anti-Peronist view of Evita as well as to peek in on some nastier aspects of Peronism. But take this with a grain of salt, as Miss Main uses no reference materials in her work and it is now a known fact she talked only to the Opposition about her book.
Tim Rice called Main’s work ‘superb’ and wished he could have had a copy while he was writing the musical. He also writes that many people who write about Evita become fascinated with her and ‘I plead guilty to this charge too.’ As a writer of either fiction or music, this is a normal reaction and a normal part of the creative process. But ignorance is not bliss and neither is hate. Sadly I have to say this book, at the end of the day, is an example of both.
Santa Evita! Not the song in the musical, but the novel about Evita by Tomas Eloy Martinez. This novel was written in 1996, to coincide with the release of the movie starring Madonna. Martinez, who passed away in 2010, was a journalist and professor at Iowa State University. While he was not a Peronist, his fascination for the Perons shows very well in his interviews as well as in this novel.
Santa Evita was a bestseller in Argentina, however, as an English reader, I felt it to be quite jarring. It begins with her death and moves backwards and jumps all over the place, from interviews with Eva’s mother, some people who had known Eva, the saga of Eva’s corpse and also contains many of Martinez’s own musings. In this case I found it, to quote an Amazon reviewer to be ‘a novel about a novel.’ In fact, I remember when I ordered a copy of the English version in 2005 that I was so disappointed that after I had finished it I decided to write my own version of her story.
That is not to knock this novel as it was obviously a labor of love on Martinez’s part and I truly did empathize with Eva in some parts of the book, such as where he describes her burning incident. I must state though, that this novel is more to tell the story of Eva’s afterlife as a wandering corpse and a retelling of her life in the way I narrated Eva’s story was obviously not what Martinez wanted. To quote him ‘She (Evita) is the summary of our national preoccupation with death. In Argentina we are never more alive than when we are contemplating death.’ I would recommend this book though to get a feel for some of the mysteries surrounding Eva’s corpse, although many of these scenes are quite disturbing, such as an officer telling his men to ‘line up. Pee on her.’If you know Spanish, I highly recommend the Spanish version over the English one and included are my favorite versions of the covers of this amazing work, my favorite being the cover of a dying but still very lovely Eva. 4 out of 5 stars. “Why try to govern a country when you can become a saint?”
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