Santa: A Novel of Mexico City

Santa: A Novel of Mexico City

Santa: A Novel of Mexico City

Santa: A Novel of Mexico City

Synopsis

This enduring classic of Mexican literature traces the path to ruination of a country girl, Santa, who moves to Mexico City after she is impregnated and abandoned by her lover and subsequently shunned by her family. Once in the city, Santa turns to prostitution and soon gains prominence as Mexico City's most sought-after courtesan. Despite the opportunities afforded by her success, including the chance to quit prostitution, Santa is propelled by her personal demons toward her ultimate downfall. This evocative novel--justly famous for its vividly detailed depiction of the cityscape and the city's customs, social interactions, and political activities--assumed singular importance in Mexican popular culture after its original publication in 1903. The book inspired Mexico's first "talkie" and several other film adaptations, a music score, a radio series, a television soap opera, and a pornographic comic book.

Naturalist writer Federico Gamboa, who was also a lawyer and politician, reveals much about Mexican mores and culture at the start of the twentieth century and beyond, from expectations regarding gender roles to the myth of the corrupting and decadent city. In describing how Santa is at the mercy of social problems beyond her control, Gamboa provides a rich historical portrayal of widespread conditions in the years leading to the Mexican Revolution.

Excerpt

Why read Santa, a novel written more than a century ago? Because of its quality, above all. This is a sophisticated and beautifully executed novel. Santa, the paradigmatic prostitute of late nineteenth-century naturalist fiction in her Mexican incarnation, is rendered by Federico Gamboa with carefully researched veracity, a cinematic eye, and, it must be admitted, not inconsiderable lust.

No wonder that Mexican filmmakers have done so many movie adaptations of the novel, no fewer than four. Though the novel immediately attracted an avid readership when it was published in 1903, it is the cinematic and other nonprint versions that have given Santa its enormous projection in Mexican popular culture. There was a silent Santa film in 1918. Then, in 1932, Santa became the first Mexican “talkie,” with notable box office success and a soundtrack hit song, “Santa,” by the immortal Agustín Lara, who might be described as Mexico’s Cole Porter. a bit later, Santa also became a pornographic comic strip. Historian Katherine Elaine Bliss has found that some young Mexican prostitutes of the 1930s told their life stories to social workers in terms that sounded much like Santa’s and that, in doing so, they often mentioned the 1932 film version starring Lupita Tovar, Mexico’s first glamorous movie actress. Meanwhile, Santa found its way into a steady stream of stage productions and returned to the big screen in 1943 and 1969. in 1978, it became a primetime television series, or telenovela. An analog to Santa in the United States would have to be a novel like Uncle . . .

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