What is it like to be the not-so-significant sister of one of the century's leading artists? Barbara Mujica's Frida, a fictional account of Frida Kahlo's life, tells itself through the medium of Kahlo's sister Christina, separated in age from the icon by only eleven months. The novel is an expertly researched volume on not only Kahlo's life, but also her work and the impulses which guided it.
Following the artist throughout her life, the novel begins with the bout of polio which transforms a rather rebellious young Frida into a woman driven to prove herself as exceptional. The first female allowed into the Prepatoria, Frida early on becomes involved in the Communist movement and the fight to protect Mexican national culture. After a terrifying trolley accident which leaves her badly damaged, the novel details her involvement and marriage to the famed muralist Diego Rivera, as well as the eventual acceptance of her work in artistic circles.
Christina's role in all of this is mostly limited to the sidelines, engaged as Frida's confidante, but shifts when Christina becomes involved with Rivera, severing the two sisters. Christina's narrative is itself a confession of her own jealousies and resentments, presenting a unique take on the demands Frida put upon those around her.
Christina tells us:
"That's what she wanted to hear, that she'd be exceptional, extraordinary. The last enchilada in the pot. The last drop of water in the desert. She was a phenomenon of sorts, but she had to keep hearing it" (75).
While Frida's health decreases, as her production and acceptance as an artist increase, we see these demands pushed even further.
The novel offers a unique depiction of Mexican life, political aspects and historical context, proving that Mujica
knows her subject well. If the novel falls short of perfection, however, it is within Christina's narration itself. Though the author sets her up as a somewhat unrliable narrator from the beginning, the device of her telling the story to a psychiatrist falls flat. Her voice, at times, lapses into trite confessionalism. Though Christina tells us again and again that she loved her sister, her depiction is somewhat venemous. I found it increasingly difficult to like Frida, or Christina, which hampered my enjoyment of the book. In addition, Christina seems to have walked away from it all with little insight into her sister or herself.
Despite these flaws, Frida offers a vivid portrayal of the life and temperament of a unique artist--an excellent read for those interested in Kahlo and her work.
© 2002 by
Kristy Bowen for Curled Up With a Good Book