Frida recounts the major points of artist Frida Kahlo’s life. These include her childhood bout with polio, her education, the tragic bus accident that left her crippled and in excruciating pain for most of her life, her tempestuous marriages to muralist Diego Rivera, her numerous affairs, her revolutionary political views, her pride in being Mexican and her artistic development. It is also a psychological profile of her sister, the unexceptional one, who was more complex than anyone guessed.
What would it be like to be the sister of a brilliant artist? Not much is written about Cristina Kahlo, other than the fact that she was a frequent model and lover of Rivera. In the author’s note at the end of this fictional account, Barbara Mujica states that she was not so much interested in documenting Frida’s life as in “capturing her essence.” To accomplish this, the story is narrated by Cristina in a series of interviews with an unseen psychoanalyst.
In this novel, as in real life, Frida is larger than life: feisty, fickle, dramatic, witty, intelligent, overbearing and provocative. Cristi is very much in her sister’s shadow. In the process of recounting the details of her sister’s life, she reveals much about herself. Over and over she professes to love and admire her sister, yet is so obviously jealous and resentful of the attention circling her. These darker emotions are the ones that lead her to betray her sister with Rivera. Their relationship is one of many detailed in Frida that embody the theme of the novel, which is that sometimes the ones we love the most are the ones we can harm the most.
I was drawn into this novel very quickly. A warning to those on a diet: Frida is full of references to food. By the time I settled into my second or third reading session, I was craving mole poblano, empanadas, enchiladas, warm tortillas, chile verde…