on 21 December 2003
EVITA: THE REAL LIFE OF EVA PERON is the definitive biography of the woman most famously known as the subject of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. What this book has that all other biographies lack is: research. The authors visited Argentina in the process of their writing, and interviewed dozens of people who knew and worked with Evita.
The other key ingredient to the success of this book is the neutrality of the authors. They don't have anything invested in what the reader thinks of Eva Peron. They do not want to sway the reader in any particular direction. The authors are neither "pro" nor "anti"-Evita. In the preface to the book they make the promise to try to present Eva as a human being, but concede that this is not as simple a task as it sounds. Evita, they claim, is buried beneath more myth and fantasy than any other historical figure of modern times.
Originally published in 1980 as EVA PERON, this re-issue, made to coincide with the release of the movie starring Madonna, contains a new introduction and epilogue in which Nicholas Fraser comments on the odd re-emergence of Evita as a late 20th Century phenomenon. Astonishingly, the re-emergence was predicted by Evita, who said, "I will return and I will be millions," shortly before she died. Though her story is at last a part of history in her homeland, "In the rest of the world," writes the author, "she has attained the condition of apotheosis." Fraser theorizes that the return may have to do with the fact that we live in a celebrity obsessed era where actors are paid more attention than politicians, making Evita - an actress-turned-politician who was accused by her opponents of turning national political life into show business - the perfect minor deity.
I would recommend EVITA: THE REAL LIFE OF EVA PERON to anyone interested in a somewhat scholarly rendering of Evita's life, as opposed to sensational pop biography (such as EVA PERON by Alicia Dujovne Ortiz).
This is a superbly written biography of Eva Peron which places her life, and death, into the context of Argentina's political and economic situation at the time.
Deeply distrusted by the aristocracy, who never forgave her rise from poverty to wife of the President, but adored by the poorer people of Argentinian society, Evita was a hands on politician. Her support for her husband was passionate and unwavering, and her determination, obsession perhaps, to address poverty led to her working extraordinary hours, sometimes with only 2 hours sleep, even when she was extremely ill, to drive the work of her Foundation.
Although there was an attempt to have her made a saint in 1952, this is an unlikely outcome. Her husband, Juan Peron, was excommunicated after her death-the first leader to be so since 1890. Evita was a star, mourned to an extent which seems to have surpassed the grief following the death of Princess Diana. She loved clothes and jewelry, and took centre stage in era when political wives stayed rather in the background. She brushed aside, or trampled over, opposition, built hospitals, schools, houses for the poor, and created safe havens for the victims of domestic abuse. She made a difference and her people loved her for it.
Her tragic, lingering death, and macabre treatment of her body which disappeared for 17 years bring a melancholy end to this otherwise highly entertaining book, before a more recently added epilogue examines the creation of the stage show and movie.
A great book, based on extensive original research, which explains the enigma that was Evita, and the reasons for the polarisation of opinion surrounding her life
on 22 June 1999
This book is very well written and balanced. The authors are interested in Evita but they never choose sides or let their personal biases get in the way of being objective and separating fact from fiction.
This book has the ingredient most Evita biographies miss, it details how much Evita loved her husband and shows that her love for him was the motivating force behind her actions. As the book says, "of all the exaggerations made of Evita's life, the one that can never be doubted is that she would willingly die for her cause." Anyone who wants to understand Evita must take into account that her love for Peron was her motivation. If you don't realize that, you will never understand Evita.
on 6 December 2014
Evita Peron helped create the mould in which both Pope Francis and Princess Diana developed, in my view. Reading this book - which does not mention either of them - you can see the parallels. Pope Francis would have been 12 when the 32-year old died. By that time she had created the Children's Football Championship which spread throughout Argentina, connecting her to huge numbers of ordinary families and little boys such as the future Pope (who is well known as a football fan). More than that, when Pope Francis kisses and hugs the poor and suffering, just as Princess Diana did, he is doing exactly what she did. Yes, she was fabulously wealthy but she was, according to the author, "unfailingly gentle and courteous" with the poor who asked her for help. She is a controversial figure - not least because she was married to someone who turned from being a great friend of the working people to being a dictator. But she sacrificed herself to her causes, says Nicholas Fraser who describes the "ferocity and lack of regard fro herself which she showed in the last years of her life".
The story of Juan Peron is not fully explained here - so the reader is aware that gaps are left out in the story. But it would be difficult to describe that complicated picture without making the book much longer. But a rough background is given, including some extraordinary transformations. Nicholas Fraser seems to have a profound understanding of human nature and the way that our own success can make us all go a bit rotten. For instance, speaking of Juan Peron, the author describes the huge affection his followers had for him as "...this hero worship, arising out of great love, [which] corrupted Peron and debased his movement".
Did Evita become corrupt too? Yes and no. But one can certainly see how generosity on a huge scale can (as it did with Evita) turn into favouritism (towards the people who come to your door and ask for help). And favouritism, when done on a national scale with state assets, is a kind of corruption. This marvellous book explains all these journeys, their extraordinary nature and their subtleties.
on 1 September 2014
A book that finally portrays this woman as a human being: with both faults and qualities. Navarro and Fraser explain (as best they can) who Eva really was. Myths, rumours and plain untruths are debunked (Eva was never involved with German Nazis and she was not a prostitute), and although not a perfect person or politician (who is?), Eva was not the witch she was made out to be in the venomous and snob driven Mary Main character assassination (or the US version of the Evita musical, for that matter). Eva wasn't a saint either. She was a human being, and all that comes with that. Eva:like Elvis Presley, John Lennon and other 20th Century icons has been the subject of both adulation and contempt: and things get magnified, distorted, sentimentalized, or just plain made up. Their good deeds are viewed as saintly, their faults and mistakes are seen as evil, their deaths as either martyrdom or public spectacle. Thankfully Navarro and Fraser have avoided these tired and usual paths, and have took a woman buried in myths and told her story as true as it can possibly be told. As the old cliché goes: Evita: Saint or Sinner? How about neither? How about a human being? As someone once said (George Harrison: when referring to Lennon): "He was no angel. But, then again at times, he could be one".
After decades of misinformation and one sided good vs bad accounts, Eva (the real one. Not the pantomime villain of Main/Dunnaway/Lloyd Webber/Rice) finally gets a fair hearing. This is an excellent book about a real person, instead of some soap opera style bitch under the bright lights of Broadway.
on 24 June 2003
This book is a very informative and touching look at the life of perhaps the most influencial woman of the twentieth century.Like a phoenix from the ashes Eva Peron rose from her childhood of extreme poverty to become the world's leading first lady.This book is account of her life and includes all that you would need to know about Evita,it looks at both sides of the story and based on this makes very truthful and fair decisions on Eva's life, personally and politically.A true classic that Evita herself would be proud of.
on 10 December 1998
I would recommend this book because it is a very detailed book and contains alot of information about Evita and the political life of Argentina. Her childhood and teenage years were not what I expected. And I was surprised that someone from that kind of background could have the political influence that she had.
on 28 August 2009
Having read Mary Main's spiteful 1952 "biography" of Eva Perón - Evita: The Woman with the Whip (on which Evita the musical was loosely based) I wanted to find out more about this enigmatic woman who appears to be up there with Princess Diana, Che Guevara, Mother Teresa and the Virgin Mary in the cultural icon stakes. This book by Fraser & Navarro did the trick to some extent, although there is so little concrete evidence about Eva's life and motives that even they have to resort to hearsay and speculation at times. But they do at least acknowledge this and cite their references, unlike Mary Main.
Eva Maria Ibarguren was brought up in extreme poverty in rural Argentina and subjected to the stigma of illegitimacy, as shortly after she was born her father left her mother to bring up his five children unsupported and returned to his legal wife and family. In 1935, at the age of 15, Eva went to Buenos Aires, determined to become an actress. (The tango singer she tagged along with in the musical is probably a myth.) She achieved her goal and by 1942 earned enough from film, TV and radio work to have her own apartment in an exclusive area of town. She met Juan Perón, then Secretary of Labour, when he was organising relief funds for the victims of an earthquake. Within a very short time they were living together, which scandalised Argentinian society, but Perón, who was relatively new to politics having come from a military background, does not seem to have been particularly bothered and introduced Eva to all his friends and colleagues. Eva appears to have worshipped him because of his stated commitment to social justice for the poorest of the working class (los descamisados, "the shirtless ones"), with whom she still closely identified despite her own success.
They got married when Peron decided to stand in the 1946 presidential elections, as it was thought that "living in sin" would damage his election chances. Using her fame as a radio broadcaster she campaigned heavily for Peron, who won convincingly. Although by now wealthy and clothed in furs and jewels, she stressed her humble origins in the propaganda broadcasts and won the hearts of the descamisados, who nicknamed her "Evita".
Eva went without Juan on an extravagant European "goodwill" tour, in which she was feted lavishly by Franco in Spain. This led to claims of fascist sympathies from the Peróns' critics . Fraser & Navarro point out Franco's invitation had initially been to Juan, as Spain needed to import wheat from Argentina. However Perón wanted to improve Argentina's relations with the USA and the United Nations so he sent Eva instead, and other countries (France, Italy, Switzerland) were added to the tour so it didn't look as though Spain was being singled out. She supposedly turned down the planned visit to the UK when she heard that the Royal Family wouldn't be there to greet her in Buckingham Palace (they would have been on their summer holidays in Balmoral at the time), and Eva took this as a snub.
On her return, she began to cultivate a less frivolous image and founded the Eva Peron Foundation to redistribute wealth collected from private businesses and labour unions to the poor. The resources of the Foundation were vast and she remained in total control, building lavish hospitals, schools and children's homes and dispensing largesse in person to those who came directly to her for aid. It was in effect a one-woman welfare state. It is not hard to see why she was so adored by the poor and loathed by the wealthy society women who had previously been responsible for administering charity to the needy via the moribund Sociedad de Beneficencia.
In 1951 Eva developed cancer of the uterus but continued to work long hours travelling the country and working for the Foundation. When she died a year later, after turning down the pleas of the descamisados (who were unaware of her illness) to stand for Vice-President, half the country went into deep mourning for many days - on a parallel with the death of Lady Diana Spencer in England, perhaps. Her body was specially embalmed so the mourners could file past and pay their last respects. Following Perón's subsequent fall from power her body was whisked off to Italy out of harm's way until it was returned 23 years later by Juan's widow, Isabel, who had become president after his death.
Evita's combination of immense power and political naivety was a bit like giving an atom bomb to a five-year-old to play with. There is no doubt that she had a ruthless streak and because of her position as the President's wife she could destroy the careers and businesses of anyone who crossed her, for example by not being sufficiently generous in their donations to the Foundation. Her obsession with handing out money to the needy may well have originated from a desire to be loved, rather than genuine concern for their welfare, due perhaps to having been abandoned by her father and rejected by his legal family at his funeral. Her obsession with the trappings of wealth - furs, jewels, fine gowns - is understandable for a little girl who grew up wearing her sisters' hand-me-downs. But she wanted everyone to have what she had worked for; the Foundation hospitals had to be as luxuriously appointed as the private clinics so there was no distinction between rich and poor in healthcare. Saint or sinner then? The jury's still out, but I'd say she was probably a bit of both.
on 24 February 2013
What an excellent introduction to the story of this amazing woman. Amidst a mass of conflicting opinion, it seeks to be fair-minded throughout. Very balanced and very impressive treatment.