The Guardian Reviews Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Tomás Eloy Martínez’s last book Purgatory  has been published. “It sounds like another good book. The Guardian has the review:

A superb political reporter, Martínez perfected in his novels the blending of strict journalistic fact with the devices of fiction. He said that he had learned the craft when, in the late 60s, the exiled dictator Juan Domingo Perón summoned him to his Spanish estate to help him write his memoirs which, as the young journalist quickly realised, were largely fictitious. The result of the experience, published in the mid-80s, was The Perón Novel. It was followed a decade later by his masterpiece, Santa Evita, which García Márquez, usually reticent in his praise, said was “the novel I’ve always wanted to read”. The posthumous publication of Purgatory shows a writer at the height of his craft, and is a fitting conclusion to the work of one of Latin America’s most remarkable novelists.

Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Peron Books Reviewed at Book Slut

Jesse Tangen-Mills has a review of three of  Tomás Eloy Martínez’s books, Saint Evita, The Novel of Peron, and the Tango Singer at Book Slut. He gives a good overview of the books, ones I should have read some time ago, especially since I own a copy of the Novel of Peron in Spanish. Both of the Peron novels are intriguing approaches to story telling. He gave an interesting interview here where he discussed some of what he wanted to do with the books.

His first attempt, The Perón Novel, took him thirty years to complete, and took me nearly six months to find. Big Spanish-language publishing houses have bases in more than one country, certainly in the biggies like Mexico and Argentina. The really big publishing houses have a base in every country in South America, and publish roughly a dozen autóctonos novels in each country, that will only be sold within that nation. The Argentine novelist, and contemporary of Martínez, Ricardo Piglia recently described it as “the Balkanization of literature in Spanish.” A less brilliant mind might just say it sucks. Every bookseller I spoke to in Colombia had read the novel, but didn’t have it. The translation was much easier to get used. In the end, I decided to read a bootleg version first (bootleg PDFs abound in Spanish) on my grime-covered laptop, before turning to the translation.

I didn’t mind starting The Perón Novel on a laptop because it was as good as I had expected, although I should warn the the reader that despite the straightforward prose with which the novel is written, without a good foundation in Argentine history, the book’s plot — and its many unbelievable characters — will be confusing. So before I get into the novel, I need to provide some background. Perón was what no American president has ever been, but always promises to be: bipartisan. He’s a Fascist-socialist-dictator-populist. And depending on who you ask, he is all or none of those labels. He’s Mussolini, an orator he greatly admired; he’s Lenin. His second wife was Evita, Miss “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” until her death in 1952 (Martínez devotes another novel, Santa Evita, to her). Then in 1955, Pedro Eugenio Aramburu led a coup, and Perón was forced into exile for nearly twenty years. And then one day he came back. That’s where this novel begins.

It should be said that Martínez never intended these books to be nonfiction. He was adamant about that. He said it was fiction correcting the so-called “truth.” The entire book, in fact, reconstructs the arrival of Perón to Argentina and the mayhem that followed. The whole historical cast is here: José López Rega, astrologist, maniac, the Iago to Perón’s Othello; Isabel Martínez de Perón, who is also a star-reader; the dictator Aramburu’s guerrilla assassins for whom Perón is like Trotsky; the counter-insurgent Archangel, a poor boy trained in the art of taking abuse. I’m not sure if that last one is real, and all of them appear to be fictional. Astrology? Really? Yes? It’s all quite unbelievable.

Tomás Eloy Martínez – RIP

Tomás Eloy Martínez the author of Santa Evita and the Novel of Peron has died. The New York Times has an obituary. I’ve been meaning to read the Novel of Peron one day, since I own it.

Interweaving factual reporting and magic realism with meditations on myth, history and the quicksilver nature of truth, Mr. Martínez’s two most famous novels explore the lives of Argentina’s two best-known and most enigmatic figures. The first, “The Perón Novel” (Pantheon, 1988; translated by Asa Zatz), originally appeared in Argentina in 1985 as “La Novela de Perón.” It centers on Gen. Juan Domingo Perón, the Argentine dictator who held the presidency from 1946 until he was deposed in 1955, and again from 1973 until his death in 1974.

The second, “Santa Evita” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996; translated by Helen Lane), was published in Argentina in 1995. It explores the life — or, more accurately, the afterlife — of Perón’s second wife, Eva. Both were best sellers in Argentina and have been translated into dozens of languages.

Jorge Volpi – the Historical Novel in Latin America

In part four of Three Percent’s talk from Jorge Volpi, Volpi discusses recent historical novels in Latin America. What is interesting is that after saying there was no Latin American literature, he talks as if there were one. However, he sees in Latin American historical novels a reluctance to deal with the now.

The ”historical novel” blossoms in Latin America just like everywhere else, but in general it covers a more remote past—the Pre-Hispanic or the Colonial period—or it aspires to secularizing heroes and official villains, but always distant in time. If to that you add the lack of interest—or the revulsion—that politics awakens among the writers who were born from the sixties on, the result is an absence of stories related to our recent history.

But if younger writers have been younger fiction writers have been reluctant to write about recent history, historians have even been more reluctant and so it has to fall to the fiction writers to do something.

To this date, except for a few pamphlets of support or opposition, characters as fascinating and dark as Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Andrés Pérez, Carlos Menem, Alberto Fujimori, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, and Hugo Chávez all lack definitive biographies. There is hardly any detail of their intimate lives or examination of their public performance or, at the other extreme, novelistic explorations of their acts (among the few exceptions, the already classic Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez or La hora azul by Alonso Cueto about Vladimiro Montesinos).

Part of the dearth has been fear and some of it has been disillusion with politics in general. Now, though, he sees some younger writers who have begun to tackle some of the issues of violence in their home countries.

In Peru, after the grotesque Fujimori-Montesinos government, the new democracy installed a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation that played a significant role in public life. It could be a coincidence, but from that moment on, a good number of writers have dared to scrutinize the immediate past with different and sometimes contrary perspectives. Besides de Cueto, I consider the work of three authors born after 1960 outstanding: Abril rojo (2002) by Santiago Roncagliolo, War by Candelight (2006) by Daniel Alarcón—whose first novel Lost City Radio (2008) also refers to this theme—and Un lugar llamado Oreja de Perro (2008) by Iván Thays.

The rest of the article explains the books and how they represent the trend he has been talking about and is a good conceptualization of novels in the historical genre.

Tomás Eloy Martínez Interview in El País

There is an excellent interview with Tomás Eloy Martínez in El País Sunday. The interview covers his thoughts on journalism, especially new journalism, and how the Internet is changing journalism, mostly for the bad. It also covers how he got his start at a journalist—it paid more than an academic career and had better prospects. He also talks about his approach to writing La Novela de Peron and Santa Evita. For the former he wanted to use the tools of fiction to tell a true story, and in the later he wanted to use the tools of journalism to tell a completely fake story.

He says he thinks that literature should be disobedience:

If literature is not disobedient it is not literature. Literature, like journalism, at root are acts of transgression, ways of looking a little bit past your limits, past your nose. Everything I have written in my life are acts in a search for freedom. Nothing gave me more pleasure when I was publishing my first articles en La Gaceta de Tucumán than my mother would say to my sisters: “We have to go to mass to pray for the soul of Tomás who is completely lost.

“La literatura si no es desobediencia no es. La literatura, como el periodismo, son centralmente actos de transgresión, maneras de mirar un poco más allá de tus límites, de tus narices. Todo lo que he escrito en la vida son actos de búsqueda de libertad. Nada me daba más placer -cuando publicaba mis primeros artículos en La Gaceta de Tucumán- que mi madre le dijera a mis hermanas: “Tenemos que ir a misa a rezar por el alma de Tomás, que está totalmente perdida”.

About the Internet and journalism he isn’t the most hopefull.

Q. But there already has been yellow journalism.

A. It existed and it exists. What happened is that this potential multiplied the poser of the yellow journalists. Every day we see signs of this type of journalism that manifests itself en the form of an accusation. I wrote a column about the carnage that got hold of Ingrid Betancourt and Clara Rojas when they were liberated from the FARC. Serious journalists with a long career added fuel to the fire of gossip about the intimacy of the exhostages.

Q. How would the limits be established?

A. This is the basic work of editors. […]

P. Pero ya había periodismo amarillo.

R. Lo había y lo hay. Lo que pasa es que esto potencia, multiplica, la fuerza del periodista amarillo. Todos los días vemos señales de este tipo de periodismo que se manifiesta en forma de acusación. Escribí una columna sobre la carnicería que se hizo con Ingrid Betancourt y con Clara Rojas cuando fueron liberadas por las FARC. Periodistas muy serios, con una larga trayectoria, añadieron leña al fuego de los chismes sobre la intimidad de las ex rehenes.

P. ¿Cómo tendrían que establecerse los límites?

R. Este es un trabajo básico de los editores. […]