Martinez, Tomas Eloy 1934–
MARTINEZ, Tomas Eloy 1934–
PERSONAL: Born July 16, 1934, in Tucuman, Argentina; immigrated to the United States, 1975. Education: Universidad Nacional de Tucuman, earned degree, 1957; University of Paris, master's degree, 1971.
CAREER: La Nacion, Buenos Aires, Argentina, film critic, 1957–62; Primera Plana, Buenos Aires, staff member, 1962–65, editor-in-chief, 1965–69; Panorama, Buenos Aires, staff member, 1971; La Opinion, Buenos Aires, head of cultural supplement, 1971–74; exiled, 1975; Papel Literario, Cracas, Venezuela, editor, beginning 1975; returned to Argentina, 1983; University of Maryland, College Park, professor of Latin-American literature, 1984–87; associated with Siglo 21, Guadalajara, Mexico, 1991; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, director of Latin American Studies Program and distinguished professor, 1995–; newspaper columnist.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars fellow, 1983; Guggenheim fellow, 1988; Premio Alfaguara de Novela, 2002, for El vuelo de la reina; honorary degrees from John F. Kennedy University of Buenos Aires and Universidad Nacional de Tucuman.
La obra de Ayala y Torre Nilsson en las estructuras del cine argentino, Culturales Argentinas, Ministerio de Educacion y Justicia, Direccion General de Cultura (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1961.
Sagrado, Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1969.
La pasion segun Trelew, Granica (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1973.
Los testigos de afuera, M. Neumann (Caracas, Venezuela), 1978.
Retrato de un artista enmascarado (collected essays), Orinoco Editores (Caracas, Venezuela), 1979.
Lugar comun la muerte, Monte Avila (Caracas, Venezuela), 1979.
(With Julio Aray and others) Sadismo en la ensenanza, Monte Avila, 1979.
La novela de Peron, Legasa Literaria (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1985, translation by Asa Zatz published as The Peron Novel, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987, translation by Helen Lane published as The Peron Novel, Vintage International (New York, NY), 1999.
La mano del amo, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1991.
Santa Evita, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1995, translated by Helen Lane, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Las memorias del general (essays and interviews), Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1996.
La Pasion Segun Trelew, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1997.
El sueno argentino, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1999.
(Editor) Ficciones verdaderas: Lechos reales que inspiraron grandes obras literarias, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2002.
El vuelo de la reina (title means "The Queen's Flight"), Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 2002.
Réquiem por un país perdido, Aguilar (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2003.
El cantor de tango, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Argentine writer Tomas Eloy Martinez has been "a major force in the intellectual life of Argentina and Latin America since the early 1960s," Nicolas Shumway wrote in Latin American Writers. The acclaimed author of The Peron Novel, a provocative blend of fact and fiction centering on Argentina's turbulent political history under the leadership of President Juan Domingo Peron, Martinez has also written Santa Evita, a novel about Peron's wife, Eva Peron, a former actress who was a beloved presence in Argentine society. These two novels have been best-sellers—Santa Evita has been published in thirty-seven languages in fifty-four countries—and made Martinez a respected literary figure throughout the world. Since 1995 he has been a distinguished professor and director of the Latin American Studies Program at Rutgers University.
Peron rose to power in 1946, three years after the military overthrow of the Argentine government. But economic troubles led to his 1955 exile to Madrid and the restoration of civilian rule in Argentina. A decade later, however, the military government was reinstated, and in 1973, Peron reassumed power. Through a series of flashbacks comprising The Peron Novel, originally published as La novela de Peron, Martinez offers three varying perspectives on Peron: the president's own cloudy memoirs, his secretary Jose Lopez Rega's tainted version of events, and a journalist's report—based on interviews—spanning the president's childhood, his early career as an army officer, and his eventual fall from power. Furthermore, Martinez illuminates Peron's ambiguous nature: appealing to the conflicting political ideals of both right-and left-wing forces, the president fostered discord among his people and, after his death in 1974, left a legacy of violence and disorder in Argentina. Critics generally applauded The Peron Novel as a sharp and stunning portrait of an enigmatic man. Jay Cantor, writing in the New York Times Book Review, deemed the book "a brilliant image of a national psychosis."
Martinez continued his exploration of the Peron myth with Santa Evita, in which he mingled fact and fiction about Eva Peron, the wife of the Argentine dictator. Evita, as she was known, was arguably the most powerful woman in the world during her term as first lady. The illegitimate daughter of a provincial politician and a servant woman, she traveled to Buenos Aires as a teenager and pulled herself up by her bootstraps, becoming first a radio actress, then a minor screen star, and finally, as Peron's wife, a figure adored and reviled by various factions of the Argentine citizenry. She was notable for her fanatical speaking style, her childish grasp of politics, her insatiable hunger for power, and her erratic displays of generosity toward the lowest social classes. After her death from cancer at the age of thirty-three, she became a mythical figure to many Argentineans. Her impeccably embalmed body—along with several decoy copies of it—was shuffled around Argentina and even to Europe and back.
Santa Evita is really the story of Eva Peron's body—its indestructible nature, unbelievable journeys, and the powerful effect it had on the people who searched for and hid it. The book begins during the last days of Evita's life, then focuses on a military colonel's mission to find the real corpse and destroy it so that it can never be used as a rallying point by the remaining Peronists. "In the process, he and his men become obsessed by the body's magically hypnotic qualities, and their lives are unalterably changed. It is all a long way from the easy sentimentality of the Broadway musical…. This is … a captivating study of how magic and politics sometimes surrealistically merge," stated Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly. Brad Hooper, a writer for Booklist, described Santa Evita as "a complex, challenging novel that lovers of Latin American fiction will applaud."
Not all reviewers were so enthusiastic. "It's a pity the novel isn't better," complained Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. "Although Mr. Martinez's narrative is enlivened by some magical and highly perverse set pieces, though it possesses moments that genuinely illuminate the bizarre intersection of history, gossip and legend, the novel as a whole feels leaden and earthbound. In the end, it gives the reader neither a visceral sense of Evita's life nor an understanding of the powerful hold she has exerted on her country's imagination." Yet New York Times Book Review contributor, Nicolas Shumway, extolled Santa Evita as "brilliant," and Martinez's insight as "bold and troubling." Steve Brzezinski, reviewing the book for the Antioch Review, found Martinez's Santa Evita to be "a richly textured novel of ideas that minutely captures the surreal and gothic upheaveals of his native land under Peronism in the 1950s."
Both The Peron Novel and Santa Evita "constantly invite comparison with history," Shumway noted in Latin American Writers. "Indeed, history is in some sense their primary subject, for Martinez repeatedly points out the similarities between historical and fictional narratives." Speaking with Caleb Bach in Americas, Martinez explained that in his native Argentina, it is often difficult to tell truth from fiction: "In my part of the world, documents often were falsified by governments. There is almost nothing authentic…. History is written by those in power. Thus, if those in power have the right to imagine a history that is false, why then shouldn't novelists attempt with their imaginations to discover the truth?"
In 2002 Martinez published a new novel, El vuelo de la reina ("The Queen's Flight"), which tells the story of powerful Argentine newspaper man Gregorio Magno Camargo, who takes a young female employee, Reina Remis, under his wing. But when he cannot control her emotions as well as her career, Camargo becomes obsessed and dangerous. "Martinez constructs," according to Carmen Ospina in the School Library Journal, "an irresistible intrigue about Premio desire, power, and machismo that will grip readers until the last page." Chris Moss, reviewing the novel for the Times Literary Supplement, called it "a clear-headed, insightful and incisive portrait of a man, and a nation, in the throes of oblivion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Latin American Writers, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
Americas, June, 1998, Caleb Bach, "Tomas Eloy Martinez: Imagining the Truth," p. 14; November, 1999, Barbara Mujica, review of The Peron Novel, p. 62.
Antioch Review, spring, 1997, Steve Brzezinski, review of Santa Evita, p. 241.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 27, 1996, p. L11.
Booklist, August 1, 1996, review of Santa Evita, p. 1855; April 1, 2003, review of El vuelo de la reina, p. 1385.
Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1996, section 14, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1988, p. 20.
Hispania, March, 1971.
Kliatt, January, 1998, review of Santa Evita, p. 10.
Latin Trade, October, 2004, review of El cantor de tango, p. 58.
Library Journal, August, 1996, p. 113; July 1, 1997, review of Santa Evita.
Nation, August 27, 1988, review of The Peron Novel, p. 173; October 28, 1996, Matthew Howard, review of Santa Evita, pp. 50-52.
National Catholic Reporter, August 12, 1988, Dawn Gibeau, review of The Peron Novel, p. 20.
New York Times, September 20, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, review of Santa Evita, p. C31.
New York Times Book Review, April 15, 1988; May 22, 1988, Jay Cantor, review of The Peron Novel, p. 16; July 30, 1995, section 1, p. 3; September 29, 1996, p. 27; January 4, 1998, review of Santa Evita, p. 24; January 24, 1999, review of The Peron Novel, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, July 29, 1996, review of Santa Evita, pp. 70-71.
School Library Journal, August, 2002, Carmen Ospina, review of El vuelo de la reina, p. S36.
Spectator, January 11, 1997, Francis King, review of Santa Evita, p. 34.
Times Literary Supplement, August 16, 2002, Chris Moss, review of El vuelo de la reina, p. 26.
Village Voice, April 26, 1988, pp. 54, 56.
Wall Street Journal, November 14, 1996.
Washington Post, September 27, 1996, p. D2.
World Literature Today, March 22, 1996, David William Foster, review of Santa Evita, p. 368.