The final days of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, as imagined by the Croatian-born author (They Would Never Hurt a Fly, 2004, etc.).
Confined to her bed and suffering from pneumonia, among other ailments, Frida has ample time to contemplate her role in the world just as she mentally readies herself to leave it. The frail 47-year-old, who is also recovering from the amputation of her right leg, ruminates on her remarkable experiences as both an artist and as the beautiful, exotic wife to famous muralist Diego Rivera (here called simply “the Maestro”). It is her lifetime of physical suffering, though, that in this book defines her most. A childhood bout of polio withers her leg; a gruesome streetcar accident nearly kills her as a teen; and chronic back pain makes even sitting still and painting a defiant act of self-control and will. Also explored are the well-known, gossipy events of her biography, including her husband’s chronic womanizing. He betrays her with her healthy younger sister Kity, an act that cuts especially deep, even as Frida outwardly forgives them both. An affair with exiled Leon Trotsky gives her insight in what it feels like to be the other woman for a change, and it suggests that Frida’s longtime flirtation with communism has less to do with ideology than it does with getting closer to her husband. But it is pain and a desire to rise above her physical body that she returns to again and again, even as she realizes that her finest work would not have been possible without it. Seemingly helpless at the end, she is left to ultimately decide how much of a role to have in her own demise. This often-downbeat work includes ample stream-of-consciousness musings and brief examinations of Kahlo’s art, and how it was influenced by her life.
Elegant portrait of an artist that grants Kahlo a vulnerability and complexity often missing from the kitschy images of her that abound today.