Screenwriter and producer Greg Widen shares his authentic and insightful review of the historical thriller, "Elza: The Girl". Hailed as one of the most bizarre true stories in Brazilian history, the tale of 16 year old Elza is brought to life by author Sergio Rodrigues. This tale of conspiracy and death has made its way to the US so be sure to check out this exclusive review!
The impossibility of truth is the theme of writer Sergio Rodrigues’ fictional recounting of an actual event that occurred during the failed Brazilian communist uprising of 1935. An espionage tale of secrets and betrayals and back alleys, it is told in uncertain memory, the ghosts of its participants agreeing on almost nothing about what happened, or even, ultimately, who they were.
Present day writer Molina, a sad-sack journalist with an unfaithful girlfriend (is she?), is hired mysteriously by an old communist from those days, Xerxes, to write his memoir of the uprising. Xerxes isn’t his real name, and Molina’s writing credentials are suspect, so from the beginning the tone is set that no one is quite who they are and historical truth, if it can be said to exist at all, is at best a dull pearl at the bottom of a very muddy lake.
Though Xerxes’ subject is the 1935 leftist uprising against the Vargas dictatorship, his obsession is the brutal murder of a 16 year old girl, Elza, who may or may not have been his the mistress, who may or may not have betrayed the communist insurgents on the eve of the uprising to the police, who may or may not have been 16, blonde, or even named Elza. Such is the rabbit hole Molina finds himself plunged into trying to record what actually happened that fateful year.
Author Rodrigues paints a believable portrait of the leftist movements in South America during the period. Typical of the region and its Latin people, it was always a more romantic struggle than either its European or Russian counterparts, but also, like so much in South America, if felt more passionately, it was also often completely misunderstood. It’s no accident that most of the party’s leaders had German last names.
Xerxes takes Molina back to a world where both Fascism and Communism still had a certain innocence about them, before Stalin and Hitler forever stained both with mass murder. So the struggle in Brazil during these years between the two has the lighthearted feel of soccer matches, opposing sides trying to best each other in cheers, songs, and bar fights.
But the murder of Elza, alternatively described as the slaughter of a country innocent seduced by a Red boyfriend, or a steely femme fatale police informer, depending what side you were on (and even what month) electrified the country when revealed and helped bring about the brutal repression of the Vargas government that wiped out the movement before it really started. So central to the story is always, “Who was Elza?” In fact, who were any of us?
As Molina plunges deeper and deeper into the memories of the man who calls himself Xerxes, he finds the matter only becoming more murky and confused to the point that basic facts and identities, even about his own life, become so twisted that one can almost feel the birth of where Latin American magic realism sprang from. Truth, about anyone, even ones self, is an impossible quest, so why not just make up the story that suits you?
Sergio Rodrigues’ writing style, though in the form of a spy novel, like Le Carre provides no action set pieces or tingling thrills. It is more, at only 200 pages, a richly told shaggy dog story, only one ultimately with no punch line, which is the punch line in and of itself. Like the work of another historical novelist, Gore Vidal, Rodrigues finds safety in irony, and like Vidal, prefers to reveal the ending at the beginning, finding the real surprises not in plot but in the characters’ self journey to that end. A journey I found interesting, credible, and worth the ride.