Teddy J amieson.
when it comes to putting pen to paper.
myself in that character.
Back to the
In his latest novel, cult American sci-fi novelist Jack Womack enters a world stranger than fiction — contemporary Russia. He speaks to
Sometimes. writing can be an act of bravery. Not in the physical sense. perhaps. but writers can walk a tightrope between the audacious and embarrassing
Take 4l-year-old Kentuckian Jack Womack. for instance. The Lexington-born. New York resident last graced our bookshelves with the snappin titled Random Acts QfSense/ess Violence in which he tried on the narrative voice ofa twelve-year-old girl in a story set in America the day after tomorrow.
At first glance his choice of narrator for his latest novel Let s Put The Future Behind Us — a middle- aged businessman - may seem less of a stretch. But when you realise the setting is contemporary Russia and the businessman. Max Borodin. is steeped in the local culture at a time when his country is undergoing massive and seemingly instantaneous change. Womack’s ambition begins to become apparent.
‘I always try to slip into whatever character I am writing,’ the author explains. ‘l just try to immerse
‘lt's a challenge to get into it to start with. but once I get the right tone I can try it out on people who are
Jack Womack: from iii th iié’
familiar with the situation and ask “Does this sound real“? Does it sound like Russia?“ Once I get that sound right. i can take it from there.‘
Take it he does. Let 3' Put The Future Behind Us reads as if it has been mined straight from the streets
of Moscow. The ‘adaptable' Max‘s business provides documents which offer an ofﬁcial sheen to some of his countrymen's shadier dealings. ‘We can prove Kennedy shot himself - as long as we’re paid in advance.’ Max informs us. Unfortunately such work brings him into contact. and sometimes conﬂict. with the Georgian maﬁa. fascist politicians. Chemobyl- im'diated Russian icons and a rather unique. if unpleasant. drugs laundering operation. Meanwhile. he juggles the domestic demands of his unhappy wife. his lubricious mistress and a wastrel brother whose ‘Sovietland' theme park scheme is either an idea of utter insanity or pure genius.
All of this is painted against a backdrop ofthc new Russia in which the only continuities from the time of communism seem to be corruption and alcoholism. It may be overstating the case. but you can certainly understand why one American critic has described the book as a Russian Bonfire Of The Vanities.
Womack tells his story with a boisterous gusto. culminating in a chilling end note which will have less perceptive readers (hands up. yours truly) scrambling to reassess everything that has gone
What makes the book more remarkable is that Womack spent only a week in Russia in 1992. researching an abortive film script. before writing it.
‘When I came back I had all this marvellous imagery going to waste so I thought to myself contemporary Russia might be a good place to set a novel.‘ he says. ‘It was the ﬁrst place. I'd say. where what i was seeing was matching how i imagined things. It's just so strange to the average Westerner that it seemed the ideal place to write a novel that could be set where my imagination could play.‘
Womack suggests that so swift is the change in the former Soviet Union that his book could already be described as a ‘historical novel‘. Y’t. as a writer best known for his science fiction, what could Russia offer that his imagination couldn't top?
‘In some ways. real dystopias are just so much more bizarre than any you could ever make up.‘
Let s I ’ut The Future Behind Us by Jack Womack is published by Flamingo at £8. 99.
Exhuming the truth
Amid the hype surrounding Evita the movie, it will be easy to miss one particularly fascinating document which really gets under tho skin of Eva Peron. Surprisingly, it is not biography, nor Is it a iictionallsed story about the living woman. Written by Argentinean loumallst Tomas Eloy Martinez, It is Santa Evita, a novel about Eva’s corpse, embalmed and put on display by her husband Juan. this is a novel with two central characters: Evita and Martinez himself, which makes it ever the more compelling. Besides the obvious fascination with the tortuous route taken by Evita’s corpse - and its
Tomes Eloy Martinez: my lite with Evita
three duplicates - you are caught up in Martinez’s own experience in writing the novel. And, to explain both, he has had to provide what is arguably the most truthiul account oi Evita’s life and the phenomenon she became.
‘It is a collection oi myths, rumours, gossip, and imaginations the people of my country had and still have about Eva Peron, her life, her corpse and her post-mortem life,’ says Martinez. ‘I tried to put the pieces of the puule together and construct a novel.’
By creating fiction, Martinez has been able to reach the parts of Evita’s life not accessible to her blographers: what happened when at six, she iirst saw her father in his coffin; how she left her small home town in the Pampas for Buenos Alres; what happened when she disappeared in 1943 for six months;
and why she withdrew her candidacy for the vice presidency at the last moment.
‘I tried to fill in the big interrogation marks in Argentinean history,’ says Martinez. ‘I did my research, of course, but I told my story in my own way using even some short stories that other people like Augusta Borges wrote.’
In a country where the official story is almost always a lie, a novel is one of the best ways of reconstructing the truth. However, Martinez ls aware that he could well be constructing a new truth. ‘I never lie to my readers,’ he says. ‘If you read carefully, lam always telling them “this is not the truth”. If you are writing you are always transforming the truth.’ (Thom liibdin)
Santa Evita by Tomes Eloy Martinez and translated by llelen lane is published by Doubleday at £15.99.
CO The List l0-23 Jan I997