Santa Evita by author Tomás Eloy Martínez

An Unforgettable Look at the Myth and Mystery of Eva Perón


The aura of Eva “Evita” Perón, Argentina’s legendary First Lady, has captivated the world’s imagination for over half a century. Yet much about her dramatic life story remains shrouded in mystery and controversy. In Santa Evita, acclaimed Argentine writer Tomás Eloy Martínez attempts to peel back the layers of myth surrounding this compelling historical figure. Written in Martínez’s richly descriptive prose, the book opens in 1955 upon the startling discovery of Evita’s perfectly preserved corpse in a crypt in Italy – stolen and hidden there for over two years after her death.

As Colonel Moori Koenig races to cleverly spirit her body away, we begin tracing back through the tumultuous events following Evita’s death at age 33 from cervical cancer. Through the colonel’s European escapade, flashbacks to Evita’s embalming, and canny political negotiations between Argentine officials, Martínez slowly unravels the posthumous journey of Evita’s body and its deep symbology to her adoring public. Weaving together fiction and historical investigation, Martínez’s masterful storytelling draws us into the dramatic tug-of-war over the mythic remains of the “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” – adored as a saint by many and seen as a dangerous demagogue by others.

Santa Evita by author Tomás Eloy Martínez

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About author Tomás Eloy Martínez

Author Tomás Eloy Martínez

The acclaimed Argentine journalist and writer Tomás Eloy Martínez left an indelible mark on Latin American literature through his complex novels and non-fiction writings. Born in Tucumán, Argentina in 1934, Martínez early on demonstrated a talent for the written word. He cultivated his skill as a reporter at the newspapers La Gaceta and La Nación, covering an array of political and cultural events across Argentina. This immersion in current events deeply informed his literary works in later years.

His first novel, La Pasión Según Trelew (The Passion According to Trelew), made waves upon its 1973 release by blending fiction and investigative reporting on a notorious massacre. In the decades that followed, Martínez produced an astonishing output, with bestsellers like La Novela de Perón (The Perón Novel, 1985) and Santa Evita (1995). The latter offered a probing look into the almost mythical status of beloved First Lady Eva “Evita” Perón after her early death. Known for fluid prose and penetrating depictions of Argentina’s complex political history, Martínez earned himself comparisons to legends like Gabriel García Márquez.

His transformative lens did not just fall on his native country, either. Works like Purgatorio (Purgatory, 2008), for instance, examined the tyranny of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Yet it was thanks to his unique insight into Argentine society that he earned international honors like the Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts and the José María Arguedas International Prize for Spanish American Literature.

Despite years living abroad as a visiting academic in cities like Pittsburgh, Barcelona and Boston, Martínez’s writing retained its local essence and evocative portrayals of regional culture. He often explored themes of political repression, revolution, and the misuse of power in societies. In part he drew inspiration from his own exile to Venezuela in the 1960s and 70s under Juan Perón’s increasingly authoritarian government in Argentina.

Tomás Eloy Martínez sadly passed away in 2010 at the age of 75, cutting short one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most resonant voices. Yet the mark he left, with his political writings and stirring depictions of seminal 20th-century figures across South America, cements his legacy as a journalistic icon and literary maestro. The depths of his socially-conscious novels, passion for truth and courage to expose state corruption makes his an essential author to explore for those seeking to understand Argentina’s complicated past and present national fabric. Whether writing novels renowned for their unflinching social commentary or histories that cut to the core of despotic regimes, Martínez exhibited a generational talent for storytelling and laser insight throughout his long career.

A Novel That Reads Like a Spy Thriller

In his fictionalized take on Evita’s life and death, acclaimed Argentine author Tomás Eloy Martínez blends fact and fantasy to create an unforgettable portrait of a complicated woman who has become shrouded in myth. Published in 1995, Santa Evita imagines what happened after Evita’s death to her embalmed corpse as it was held for nearly 20 years in secret locations across Argentina and Europe.

Told through the voices of multiple narrators closely connected to Evita and the drama surrounding her body, this captivating book reads like a political thriller while also serving as a metaphor for Argentina’s own tortured modern history. Through vivid imagery and evocative language, Martínez brings Evita back to life on the page. We get a window into the mind of an ambitious, complex woman hungry for power and love from her people. Yet in death, her husband Juan Perón and subsequent political regimes manipulate her body and memory for their own political ends.

Portraying the Saint and Sinner Sides of a Fascinating Figure

By having different characters share their unique perspectives on Evita, we are shown both her humanity and the myth-making cult that has built up around her over the decades. There are tender recollections of her tireless work on behalf of women, children, and the poor from friends and staff members. Yet there are also unflattering stories of her ruthless ambition, vanity, and vindictiveness towards enemies and those who betrayed her.

Haunted By Her Mystique Even After Death

The novel is structured as a collection of diary entries, memoires, and letters from fictionalized figures in Evita’s inner circle, along with historical figures like Juan Perón himself. These formative voices from her life were all equally haunted by Evita’s mystique during her life and long after her death. They retell intimate stories that reveal sometimes shocking truths behind her carefully crafted public image as a saintly, incorruptible figure.

Her Longtime Hairdresser and Confidante

Evita’s hairdresser Agustín Magaldi offers touching recollections of Evita’s inner life in her final days as she weakened physically from advanced cervical cancer. Yet as someone tasked with maintaining Evita’s elaborately coiffed hairstyles and keeping up appearances, he also shares unflattering observations about her desperate need for endless affirmations of public adoration.

The Pathologist Who Embalmed Her Corpse

Dr. Pedro Ara describes the process of preserving her body unnaturally to maintain the illusion of life. Yet the corpse seems to take on a life of its own as he becomes a reluctant companion on its bizarre journey across continents.

The Spy Tasked with Stealing Her Corpse

Colonel Carlos Moori Koenig spent over a decade carrying out the secret joint plan between Argentine and European intelligence agencies to steal Evita’s body shortly after Perón is exiled in 1955. His insider’s look at this unbelievable mission shows the strange juxtaposition of Casablanca-like spy thriller events and almost religious devotion to safeguarding Evita’s physical remains.

Evita’s Mother and Sister

Through diary entries and letters to Evita herself after her death, her mother Juana and much younger sister Erminda express the pain of losing her and lament never truly knowing the international superstar she became. They present Evita the doting daughter, caring aunt and sister, driven by dreams of improving life for regular Argentines.

Body as Metaphor for Argentina’s Turmoil

On one level, Santa Evita is pure political intrigue, with Argentine military leaders secretly trafficking Evita’s elaborately preserved corpse to foreign countries to keep it from becoming a political symbol for Peronistas seeking power. There is great irony, for example, in detailing hiding her body at the Spanish embassy in Buenos Aires, as Argentina welcomed Nazis into the country following WWII.

Yet Martínez uses Evita’s unsettling death journey to showcase Argentina’s ongoing troubles with democracy and authoritarian rule in the mid-20th century. Like her body passed between regimes like a macabre football, Argentina endured coups and instability, unable to lay its complex past fully to rest.

Haunting Prose Brings Evita Back to Life

While fictional, Martínez took inspiration from historical accounts, biographies, even forensic reports on the process of preserving Evita’s body to craft this meta-novel. The richness of detail and gorgeous language helps breathe new life into Evita’s story from unique perspectives.

Passages stay with you, like this quote from the embalmer Dr. Ara:

“Death struck Evita in the height of her glory and then came her negation: she was plucked from her niche in history, shut away in refrigerators, the wanderer made prisoner in foreign lands. Herod had achieved his revenge: Evita had no place in which to die.”

Mystique Endures Decades Later

Part political exposé, part historical reimagining, part otherworldly metaphor, Santa Evita showcases Martínez’s brilliance melding fact and fiction into one enthralling read. It offers a window into the enduring allure of Evita herself.

Over 70 years since her death, Evita still feels so alive to Argentines and many around the world. Why does her mystique endure when so many other political figures fade into history? This incredible novel offers abundant clues that stick with you like an unsolved mystery.

No matter your familiarity with Argentina’s complicated history or Evita’s mythical legacy, Santa Evita casts a haunting, unforgettable spell. Martínez makes us feel like insiders unraveling one of history’s most bizarre tales of a corpse fought over like holy relic.

Still Searching for Answers About the Real Evita

When the book closes, you almost feel like another witness trying to separate truth from lore. Was Evita a ruthless social climber drunk on fame and power? Or selfless champion of the oppressed? Maybe she was both in the end: a complex woman like any saint or sinner among us.

That’s the genius of Martínez’s kaleidoscopic approach — blending viewpoints shows our need to define Evita one way or another says more about us than her. She contains multitudes even in death, immune to easy labels. however her legacy gets appropriated for political gain.

I came for the pulpy mystery plot but left marveling at Martínez’s writing and deeper message about myth-making. Santa Evita doesn’t definitively answer who she ultimately was — that’s for the reader to ponder. But it does help explain why a country and world remains so endlessly fascinated with her life, death and legacy.

  1. The Perón Novel by Tomás Eloy Martínez: A fictionalized account of Juan Perón’s life, offering another perspective on Eva’s husband and Argentina’s political climate.
  2. Las viudas de los jueves by Claudia Piñeiro: Explores the dark secrets and political conspiracies behind a group of wealthy widows in contemporary Argentina.
  3. Evita: The Myth That Made a Nation by W. Jackson: A factual biography of Eva Perón, dissecting the mythmaking and realities behind her image.
  4. The Hidden City by Marcelo Figueras: A historical thriller set in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War, exposing the city’s dark underbelly and political conflicts.

Blending Magical Realism and Latin American Fiction

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: A landmark of magical realism, weaving myth and history into a sprawling family saga about Colombia.
  2. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez: A shorter masterpiece, exploring fate and community in a small Colombian town on the verge of tragedy.
  3. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: A sweeping saga spanning generations in Chile, blending political turmoil with magical realism and family drama.
  4. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: A sensual and fantastical exploration of love, food, and female empowerment in revolutionary Mexico.
  1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt: A dark and suspenseful story of ambition, murder, and obsession at a New England college, with a chilling atmosphere reminiscent of Santa Evita.
  2. The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson: A classic gothic tale of medical ambition and grave robbing, exploring the macabre fascination with death that echoes in Santa Evita.


  1. The Master’s Hand by Tomás Eloy Martínez: Another novel by the author of Santa Evita, exploring the life of a political exile and his relationship with a mysterious woman.

Conclusion: An Unforgettable Read Shrouded in Mystery

Santa Evita pulls off a singular achievement: telling readers as much about ourselves and myth-making as the enduring enigma of Evita Perón herself. This propulsive read should enrapture history buffs, political junkies, and magical realism fans alike with an alluring premise and captivating prose.

Come for the thrilling plot twists dignifying Evita’s hidden corpse. But stay for the troubling truths Martínez unearths about Argentina’s past and our need to define complicated people only as saints or sinners, angels or demons. Is it any wonder Evita’s ghost haunts the national psyche decades later? Her otherworldly presence certainly haunts every page of this fictionalized yet unflinching tour of both majesty and darkness in Argentina’s DNA during its mid-20th century travails.

Still Left Guessing About the Real Evita

Ultimately Evita escapes absolute judgments within Santa Evita’s kaleidoscopic framework. We get no definitive answer to her “true” nature or legacy. She remains as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa smile in the end.

Perhaps that lingering mystery explains her unending intrigue when many other political figures fade fast from memory after death. We think we’ve pinned her down before another viewpoint shifts our perspective once again.

The Genius of Martínez’s Postmodern Approach

By blending real biographical details about Evita’s life with fictionalized storytelling from first-person accounts, Martínez satisfyingly blurs the lines between myth and reality. It echoes Argentina’s own slippery sense of history and identity during its most recent century of earthquakes between democracy and dictatorship.

Some novels don’t lend themselves easily to truth and fiction separation surgery. Meant to be ingested as a whole, digesting Santa Evita’s unstable mixture of genres and perspectives makes for an unforgettably potent literary cocktail. It captivates your intellect while haunting your soul.


What is the premise of Santa Evita?

Santa Evita tells the story of Eva “Evita” Perón, Argentina’s powerful and controversial First Lady in the 1940s and early 1950s. After Evita’s untimely death from cancer at age 33, her corpse was embalmed and intended for display in a monument that was never built. What follows is an account of the country’s chaotic politics in the wake of Juan Perón’s fall from power, and the bizarre journey of Evita’s body over the next 20 years to keep it hidden from opposing political forces.

What time period is covered in the novel?

The novel spans the height of Juan and Eva Perón’s power in 1943-1952, through Juan Perón’s fall from power in 1955, and the subsequent military dictatorship that ruled Argentina until 1973. It details the concealment and secret movements of Evita’s corpse over nearly 20 years to prevent its destruction by anti-Peronist forces.

What literary devices are used?

Martínez employs magical realism, presenting historical facts interwoven with surreal fictionalized scenes. He also uses layered narratives, alternating between the perspective of real-life figures that handled Evita’s body to the fictional Dr. Ara and his family’s quest to steal it. Literary motifs like the wax mannequin that impersonates Evita’s body recur throughout.

How historically accurate is Santa Evita?

While an insightful cultural portrait of mid 20th century Argentina, Santa Evita is considered a novel, not a historical account. Many characters are fictional composites and some events dramatized. But major events, figures, and the bizarre handling of Evita’s actual corpse are based on fact.

What themes pervade the novel?

Primary themes in Santa Evita include the mixing of myth and reality, the political appropriation of a figure like Evita for diverse agendas, the fusion of Catholic veneration of saints with celebrity worship, and the national obsession with Evita’s body representing Argentina itself.

How is Evita characterized?

Far from a forgotten historical figure, Evita still exerts a powerful hold on Argentina’s national psyche. She’s characterized as an almost divine female figure of compassion advocating for the poor. After death her corpse takes on its own agency, influencing events by its cult-like allure. Martínez suggests death immortalized the Evita mythology.

Is there symbolism with Evita’s corpse?

Yes, Evita’s unburied corpse becomes the embodiment of the spirit of Perónism that haunted Argentina for 20 years after Juan Perón’s own exile. The wax copy of her body takes on deeper meaning about national identity. Guarding and concealing her actual body is symbolic of suppressing Perónist sentiments during military rule.

How does the novel depict Argentine politics?

Mid-20th century Argentina saw great political volatility—democratic rule, dictatorships, restrictions on civil liberties. The novel presents self-interested military leaders, politicians, and churchmen all trying to harness Evita’s corpse to legitimate or demonize Perónism. Competing factions fail to serve the people’s true interests.

Does the novel criticize Perónism?

While exposing damaging political instability after the Peróns’ fall, the novel resists overly moralizing their complicated legacy. Martínez adds nuance around charges of demagoguery or fascism against Perónism. Santa Evita suggests Evita’s mystique arose from genuineness towards Argentina’s marginalized sectors even amidst the mythology.

What is the climax and conclusion?

In 1971 Evita’s body finally returns to Perónist custody after 16 years hidden in Italy under a false name. But even restored to her husband Juan Perón’s control during his brief third presidential term, her corpse remains ill-fated, not allowed the permanent monument Evita sought in life nor a dignified burial. Like Argentina, she remains suspended between conflicting forces.

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