Tomás Eloy Martínez: Writer celebrated as a novelist who combined fiction and history and as a provocative journalist

Tomás Eloy Martínez was one of the Spanish-speaking world's most-respected authors and most provocative journalists of the last few decades, his novels acclaimed by contemporaries including Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa and Isabel Allende. Stricken by cancer several years ago, the Argentinian continued to write until his last days, notably as a columnist with the Argentinian daily La Nación, El País of Spain and The New York Times.

A close friend of García Márquez when they were national newspaper journalists in the 1960s, he helped the Colombian launch the Fundació*Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, or New Iberoamerican Journalism Foundation, which seeks to stimulate young journalists throughout the Spanish-speaking world and of which García Márquez is president. He also played a key role in promoting his friend's 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which would propel the Colombian to international fame and eventually a Nobel prize.

Martínez himself was best known for his novels Santa Evita (1995), translated into more than 30 languages, and La Novela de Perón (The Peron Novel, 1985), which mix fact and fiction over the lives of the former Argentinian president Juan Domingo Peró*and his second wife Eva Duarte, or Evita.

In both books, Martínez said, he sought to create a technique which was the reverse of the New Journalism writers in the US. Whereas they wrote about real events using fictional style, he he used a factual, journalistic style to tell stories which were largely fictional, based on real and made-up characters, thereby "introducing elements of doubt into history," as he put it. "In The Peró*Novel, the fictional characters are the most real," he said.

García Márquez, the first person to read Santa Evita before Martínez sent it to his publishers, was said to have been stunned by it, while Fuentes said, "I and Gabo [García Márquez] separately came to the conclusion that we'd have been delighted to be the author of such a perfect work, with its soldering of fiction and history."

Martínez's 2002 novel El Vuelo de la Reina (The Flight of the Queen) reflected his own falling in love with an Argentinian journalist half his age and delighted him, he said, because "it sold half a million copies in China, though it didn't make me rich." The book, which won Spain's Alfaguara prize for best Spanish-language novel, tells the story of Camargo, a voyeuristic director of a Buenos Aires newspaper who falls in love with Reina, a 30-something colleague; as always in the author's work, the fabric of the city is as much a leading character as the two lovers.

His penultimate novel, El Cantor de Tango (The Tango Singer, 2005), led to him being shortlisted for the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, which recognises overall achievements rather than a single novel. Also on the shortlist were García Márquez, Doris Lessing, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and John Updike; the prize went to the Albanian Ismael Kadaré.

The Tango Singer, which Martínez said came to him in a dream and which was described by the Independent as "a work of hallucinatory brilliance," tells the tale of Bruno Cadogan, a young New York academic who criss-crosses Buenos Aires during Argentina's financial crash of 2001 trying to track down the tango singer Julio Martel.

His last novel, in 2008, was Purgatorio (Purgatory), partly based on his own experiences in the 1970s, told the story of a couple who were separated during the "Dirty War" against leftist sympathisers but reunited 30 years later. Drawing on his own experiences of exile and return, he sought to awaken readers to the fact that dictatorships, as he said, "are not possible without the complicity of society."

Martínez spent eight years in exile in Venezuela during Argentina's military dictatorship and Dirty War, having been threatened by right-wing death squads. He became editor of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional and founded a new daily, El Diario de Caracas. He later spent more than 20 years in the United States, first as a lecturer at the University of Maryland. From 1995 he was director of Latin American Studies at Rutgers University, New Jersey, and latterly professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the university's School of Arts and Sciences. He returned to his homeland only three years ago, announcing that the US had become "asphyxiating" and that "George Bush has changed the culture of freedom in his country in a way that may be irreparable."

Tomás Eloy Martínez was born in the northern Argentinian city of San Miguel de Tucumá*on 16 July, 1934, the eldest of four children of what he called "parents who came from an old family but had fallen into hard times." As a child, he recalled shutting himself up in his room to read. "I devoured the complete works of Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas, later Hemingway, Faulkner, Henry James, and, of course, my compatriot Borges" he said. "At 14, a librarian gave me Kafka's The Trial to cure my insomnia but I've been an incurable insomniac every since."

While studying Spanish and Latin American literature at the National University of Tucumá*he worked began as a proofreader and later a reporter at the local paper, La Gaceta, before moving to Buenos Aires in 1957 as theatre and film critic of La Nación. In 1962, a leading Argentinian Jewish journalist, Jacobo Timerman, invited him to help launch a magazine, Primera Plana (Front Page), which be-came dangerously outspoken despite censorship and became part of "El Boom" in Latin American literature largely inspired by the Cuban revolution. While at the magazine he wrote his first novel, Sagrado (Sacred, 1969).

In 1972 he wrote a series of articles about a massacre of political prisoners in the Patagonian city of Trelew, named after its 19th century Welsh settlers. After the articles were published in 1974 as a book, La Pasió*Segú*Trelew (The Passion According to Trelew) it was banned and led to death threats against him and his children from a military-linked death squad known as the Alianza Anticomunista de Argentina, or the Triple A, one of whose gunmen once held a pistol to the head of his three-year-old son.

For the sake of his six children from two former marriages he fled to Paris, where he was aided by Mexico's then ambassador Carlos Fuentes, then to Venezuela, where he married a local journalist, Susana Rotker, in 1979 and had another child. Susana was killed by a drunk driver in New Jersey in 2000 and he married the Argentinian journalist Gabriela Esquivada in 2003.

Phil Davison

Tomas Eloy Martinez, author and journalist; born San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina, 16 July, 1934. married four times (five sons, two daughters); died Buenos Aires 31 January 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Growing Law firm

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable law firm based in central London ...

Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

£30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

The Jenrick Group: Controls Engineer

Negotiable: The Jenrick Group: A Controls Engineer is urgently required for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an an exciting opportunity to jo...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas