This is what I knew about Frida before I read this novel. What I've learned has made me a Frida fan and wanting to read more about her amazing and tragically short life.
The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck is a whirlwind of color, imagination, recipes, and a life that seems like it couldn't possibly be true. Yes, this is a work of fiction, but the outline of Frida's life written here is based on fact.
What the author delves into is Frida's inner thoughts and imaginings. Frida's life changes when she's in a horrible accident in her early 20's--her spine is fractured, leg broken, and she's impaled by a rod while riding a bus on her way to her boyfriend's home. While she's lying in the wreckage, Frida has an encounter with her Godmother. The Godmother is a mysterious veiled woman who makes a deal with Frida--she can survive her injuries, but it will mean a life filled with pain and heartbreak. Frida isn't ready to die, so she accepts the offer. For the rest of her life, she receives visits from her Godmother, who reminds Frida that she must honor her on the Mexican Day of the Dead, or she will not live to see another day. Faithfully, Frida cooks up Mexican dishes and makes an altar to her Godmother every year, thus ensuring her life will continue. Is this a figment of Frida's imagination, or did she cross over to a different realm and come back during her accident?
Frida's life was filled with drama. Married to the artist Diego Rivera, she follows him to the US as he paints murals in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York. She's pretty miserable in the US and longs to be back in Mexico surrounded by the sights, smells, and comforts of home. Her painting is sporadic, her health issues plague her all the time. Diego is a notorious womanizer and cheats on a weekly basis with so many women it boggles my mind! And Frida herself falls in and out of love with many men and women--her encounters with Georgia O'Keefe are fascinating. Her devastation at not being able to carry a child is one of the most painful parts of her life, and one of the many things in which she never finds peace.
And there's also The Messenger. A man on a white horse who Frida sees whenever someone is going to die. She knows he's going to come for her when her time is up. Is he another figment of an incredibly gifted imagination, or does she really see this harbinger of death that no one else sees?
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Frida's world was such a colorful, epic place. Just looking at some of her paintings, I can see all the pain she endured, and all the magic she saw in everything around her. She was color, spice, pain, heartache, and mystical all rolled up into one tiny body. And she was truly beautiful. The author weaves a tale that is hard to put down, and leaves you wanting to read more about Frida and her life. This is a great book for reading groups, anyone who likes strong female personalities, or those who love art. Or someone like me--who wants to read a good story.
Thanks to Atria Books for an advanced reader's copy. This book was one of the highlights of my reading year!
Rating: 4/5. Frida's life as imagined through a private journal, recipes, and all the flavors our senses can bring us--she is brought to life in a blaze.
This book is available in paperback at the end of September, and also as an e-book.