Sunday, August 13, 2017

Evita...My Argentina

A new favorite author of mine is American novelist Helen R. Davis, whose first novel in her Cleopatra series I have reviewed on this blog. I have since read Helen's earlier novel about Eva Peron, which unlike Helen's later works is not an alternate history. Rather it is like a memoir as Evita herself could have written it. For those who are unaware, Eva Peron (1919-1952), born María Eva Duarte, was the second wife of Juan Peron, the President of Argentina from 1946-1955 and later from October, 1973 until July, 1974. Eva is known by most people as the heroine of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Evita; Helen's novel affords a much more intimate portrait of the First Lady who rose from the slums to become the heroine of the poor. While her critics have often accused her of fascism and Nazism, as leftists tend to do of anyone even slightly to the right, Evita was not party to any political philosophy other than her husband's vision for Argentina, which was anti-Communist and pro-family. As for Nazism, Eva never was one, being pro-Israel.

The novel opens while Evita is dying and thinking back over her life. Born out-of-wedlock, Eva grew up in an atmosphere where too often children were deliberately punished for the sins of their parents, especially in a country village. Eva and her siblings were treated with shame and disdain by all the "respectable" people, and condemned to grinding poverty. Her illegitimacy would haunt her until the end of her days. When Eva was raped as a young teenager, she had no recourse to the law because of her lowly status, especially since her attacker was from a "good" family. Determined to raise herself and her family from the literal gutter, Evita sought to become an actress, which at the time was one step away from prostitution. Eventually, she found that her real talent was radio, and was able to make a good living. It was around that time that she met Juan Peron, a rising star on the political scene. When Peron became President, Eva, as his wife, made helping the poor a top priority, which won the hearts of many people. She also became her country's ambassador as she toured the world, making alliances with many leaders. Tragically, at the height of her popularity, she found she had uterine cancer. Her death was met with great mourning in Argentina.

The novel is written as a running stream of consciousness as Evita navigates her way through sordid and degrading situations to becoming the great lady she always wanted to be. Amid her zealous plans to help the needy she is always conscious of her clothes and just about every outfit is described with an almost childlike enthusiasm. In spite of her previous ill-treatment, she is still able to take joy in so many things, according to the author's portrayal. And yet the dark side is never far away, as her past returns to haunt her. Helen Davis is able to get inside her character's head as if they were confidantes. It makes history come alive as it only can in a good historical novel.

(The book was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)

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