EVA PERON by Nicholas & Marysa Navarro Fraser
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EVA PERON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

British journalist Fraser and Dartmouth historian Navarro have separated out the truth from the sinner/saint legend of Eva Peron--and, most impressively, produced a work of great political sophistication. They are precise in establishing both Eva's illegitimacy and her elaborate stratagems to conceal it; but they reject the notion that shame and penury instilled in her a desire for revenge. Rather, she grew up revering movie stars; absorbed, as an actress, the romantic, idealizing distortions of the soaps and fan magazines; gave herself wholly to Peron and the campesinos in gratitude for their adoration and elevation of her. Similarly, Fraser and Navarro portray Peron as impressed with Mussolini's pomp and Hitler's might--but no doctrinaire fascist when, in 1945, the campesinos (whom he had helped as Labor Secretary) propelled him out of imprisonment and into power. We see a newly-married (at last) Eva, casually garbed in Peron's pajamas, unconventionally proferring political advice; then, a bouffant, bejewelled Eva triumphantly touring Europe; finally, a chignoned, business-suited Eva (""the costume of seriousness and dedication"") seeing petitioners into the night--listening ""to whatever was asked of her, from a simple demand for increased wages to an industry-wide settlement, and along the way a request for a place for a family to live; furniture; for a job in a school, food, permission to make a movie. . . ."" And kissing the leprous, distributing ""love,"" becoming, to some, a saint. Why did Peron allow her this freedom? His control over labor was weak, the authors suggest: she alone was no threat; she could, appropriately, exalt him; she supplied the popular ""thirst for rituals and symbols."" But, ultimately, he blocked her from the vice-presidency--her then-advancing cancer apart. Fraser and Navarro weigh ""her long and appallingly painful death in public""; detail the embalming, disappearance, retrieval, and return of her body; describe how, in a foundering Argentina, there arose a new myth of ""a socialist, libertarian Peronism""--with Eva, the campesinos' saint, now ""a revolutionary icon."" Factual, nuanced, and absorbing--steadier and deeper by far than John Barnes' Evita (to say nothing of the long-running musical).

Pub Date: March 30th, 1981
Publisher: Norton