Saturday, December 24, 2011

Frida's Bed - Slavenka Drakulic

Frida Kahlo, the immortal painter of Mexico, who celebrated her physical and mental pains through the paintings in the first half of the 20th century. It was the movie named after her which gave Salma Hayek her Oscar, that got me interested in this painter. Through her 'self portraits' with vivid colors and disturbing images, she rose to fame during her life time.

She was born to a family of 4 girls to her German father and Mexican mother, she suffered from childhood polio and an accident that permanently made her crippled for life. She never recovered from her physical disabilities, to which she later lost her leg. It is the fight to survive, made her an interesting character. She had the guts to walk up to 'the best' mural painter in Mexico, showing him the drawing and seeking his advise. Diego Rivera ( the Maestro as he is addressed in this book) , the muralist, immediately recognized the talent and asked her to continue to draw, later divorced his existing wife and marries the young Frida, 20 odd years younger to him. However, the marriage gone through its own ups and downs, with the flirtatious life of Maestro, they had to break the relationship, only to get married again. Her active career in painting started after her own sister cheated on her with her husband. Its is from the pain of rejection, came some of her best artistic output.
For her the painting was not a hobby. Caught between art and Survival, she chose the latter.
She continue to find solace in her drawings, occasionally finding love outside her wedlock, while her husband tries to seek artistic and physical beauty with the numerous models that frequented his studio. As an active member of the Communist Party, she participated in the agitation along with the workers. It is this connection that attracted her to the fleeing Trotsky, who stayed back in Mexico trying to run away from Stalin, until the tragic end. Frida, despite her attraction towards the Communist leader, felt guilty and sympathetic towards the leaders wife, for her behavior. Slavenka Draculic, writes brilliantly here.

Here, Frida is the character and its her reminiscence of her life from her death bed. Its her quest to survive despite all the adversities that the life has thrown at her. We see a courageous lady, never ever complaining on the fate that has thrust upon her. Even when she was cheated by her sister with her husband, she tried to reason out their behavior. Some of her reaction might have come from her fear of loosing, and from her inability to live without some help. What makes her attempt laudable is the way she handles her protagonist. At no time, she tried to glorify the person she is trying to get into. Even when the narrative shifted from first person to third person , she does not loose control.

Narration constantly shift from first person ( on Frida's voice) to third person ( the writers) and an occasional commentary on her works in line with her life. The language is lucid, the thought process is clear and crisp, though a bit draggy at times and repetitive, it manages to keep you glued on to the book. Its monotonous, single sided, looking through the mind of Frida, hence it is difficult to gather the complete picture.

An extremely intelligent and well thought out book by Slavenka Draculic. It is not easy to pull off a great fictional work on a legendary , historical character , whose memory is still fresh in the mind of people. Brilliant stuff.
Frida's Bed ( 2007 )
Slavenka Draculic ( translated from Croatian by Christina P Zoric )
Penguin Books
162 Pages

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