Tinisima opens with a vibrant description of the assassination of Julio Antonio Mella, a Cuban revolutionary fighting in 1920s Mexico, and captures the reader with the intrigue surrounding the trail of his accused murderer, Tina Modetti, well-known as his lover. What follows is a fictionalized account of Modetti’s life – an Italian-American famous for both her work as a photographer and her exploits roaming the world from Mexico to Moscow and many locales in between.
Along the way, readers can’t help but be entranced with the story of Tina’s life as well as Poniatowska’s lush, seductive writing. Working as a silent film actress in Hollywood, Modetti begins modeling for painter Diego Rivera and falls in love with photographer Edward Weston. She finds her way to Mexico and soon becomes a beloved champion for the poor as a result of her touching, stark photos of peasant life. Fleeing after the collapse of murder charges against her, she seeks respite in Germany and is welcomed into the Soviet Union. Loyal comrade Modetti finds herself trusted with secret missions across Europe and soon is providing support for the Spanish Civil War before sneaking back into Mexico before her early death.
Tinisima is a heady mix of biography and fiction. Poniatowska’s style succinctly and evocatively captures both the moment – whether describing a dusty Mexican village, the harsh Soviet winters, or dodging bullets in Spain – and the spirit of a strong and sometimes desperately lonely woman.
No parts of this gem are forgettable, and each is so intertwined with the other that forgiveness must be begged if too much is given away here. It’s biographical, after all, and is a matter of public record. But Elena Poniatowska writes a beautiful version of this entrancing story. Read it.