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My favorite political fiction

21 February 2014

Today’s the 220th birthday of that model politician and political memoir writer, Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. There are a few writers who defend the old scoundrel:  Robert L. Scheina’s Santa Anna: A Curse Upon Mexico (Brassley’s Military Profiles, 2002) presents not the eleven times president not as a political figure, but a military officer who was brilliantly successful in campaigns against his own countrymen. When it came to fighting outsiders… not so much. Scots historian Will Fowler’s Santa Anna of Mexico (University of Nebraska, 2007) portrays the General as an exemplary country squire who honesty saw himself as an indispensable man simply forced to run a much larger hacienda than his beloved Manco de Clavo estate in Veracruz. And, as something of a country bumpkin, overwhelmed by Mexico City slicker intellectuals. Not a bad guy, just one in over his head. santa-anna-horsebackSanta Ana himself (and… I still prefer the alternative spelling of his name), while in exile in Nassau, the Bahamas… an historic haven for pirates, scoundrels and money launderers… and where better to write about politics? The manuscript was inherited after his death by his grandson and namesake, Father Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (who used the modern spelling), a Jesuit priest who perhaps was trying to redeem the family name through his own good works as a missionary in Haiti. Father Santa Anna hoped to write a biography of his rascally grandfather, but died before finishing the project. The “Memoirs” were finally translated into English by Texas scholar Anna Fears Crawford, as The Eagle (State House Press, Austin, TX 1988)… and what a great political memoir it is! There is a tradition in Spanish letters of the “fictional biography” going back to the 16th century La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades, and continuing up to the present. Within the genre, The Eagle is unique in being not only readable, but something unusual in that it actually was written by its putative author (unlike, say Decision Points, supposedly by George W. Bush, Going Rogue allegedly by Sarah Palin, or Revolution of Hope, attributed to Vicente Fox) but can be read as a work of metafiction, in which the author is also the impossibly pure hero, who — in good mythological fashion — is betrayed by treasonous, lesser beings. In The Eagle, every act of Santa Ana… good, bad or atrocious… was for the good of his country… even losing a third of the country was a sacrifice only a true patriot would dare to undertake. In other words… like the memoirs of every politician … he was full of shit. But at least he wrote his own bullshit, and that’s more than we can say about politicians today. ¡Viva Santa Ana!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bebe permalink
    22 February 2014 1:50 am

    I’ve never figured out how two of his prostheses ended up in Illinois post-Mexican-American War. Human beings do became enamored of collectable curiosities (Las Momias), but the peg legs of a Mexican general active in the US’s first jingoistic conflict…? Though perhaps I have answered my question LOL!

    • 22 February 2014 2:25 am

      I guess they figured he wouldn’t wouldn’t have a leg to stand on! Banamex owns a lovely ivory number he wore for formal occasions, and I suspect he had closet full of peg-legs to fit whatever he wore. Seriously, his thigh had never healed properly, and I think he had to change off his prosthetic leg every couple of hours.

  2. Bebe permalink
    22 February 2014 12:40 pm

    Ah, thanks kindly. I totally forgot our medical advances in 150 years (just like Henry VIII’s leg sores). Plus El General’s vanity.

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