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Frida: A Novel Based on the Life of Frida Kahlo
by Barbara Mujica

Frida: A Novel Based on the Life of Frida Kahlo
  • Cost: $26.95
  • Length: 366 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press, 2001

Reviewed by Meghan Stephens

Sometimes I feel as though I've lived my entire life through Frida. She was the one who had adventures; she was the one who experienced magnificent emotions. I wore life secondhand, just as I wore Frida's old clothes

          (Mujica 136)

The novel Frida, by Barbara Mujica, tells the life story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Like a biography, the book recounts the life of Kahlo's stormy marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, her affairs with both men and women, and the illnesses and accident that left her pained and permanently disabled. However, unlike most biographies, this fictionalized tale is told through the memories of Cristi, Fridas younger sister.

Cristi is younger than Frida by eleven months because they are so close in age, they are also close friends for most of their lives. However, Cristi feels overshadowed by her older sister. Everything in Cristi's life reminds her of Frida. As Frida puts it, Everything I do, you do eventually. While this is not true in every respect, Cristi does feel as if she is simply Fridas shadow. She is never really able to have her own identity. Cristi also feels that, no matter what she does, she will never be as good as Frida.

There are several important themes running through the book. A prominent one is sibling rivalry. Frida gets all of the attention in the family, not only as an adult but also as a child. According to Cristi, many of Frida's actions are designed to get attention, she knows how to focus all eyes on her.

There is also a theme of longing and loss throughout the book. Frida is unable to have children, although she tries several times. She also seems to feel longing because of Diegos womanizing, which often leave her without him for periods of time. As a character, Cristi also embodies longing because she aches constantly to be the one who is well-known. She tries to use Frida's fame to her advantage to socialize with actors, politicians and other famous people. However, it is Frida that they want to know, not Cristi. The novels other main theme is resentment. Cristi resents her sister not only for her fame, but also because it is Cristi who must endure the task of caring for Frida after her accident and during her declining years. Cristi simply feels as if she is Frida's caretaker, rather than her sister. All through her life, Cristi is envious of Frida for being the center of attention, especially their fathers attention.

Frida is a very good book for people familiar with Frida Kahlo's life because it gives a unique view of her, albeit not an entirely factual one. As Mujica says in the authors note, My intention in writing Frida was to capture the essence of Friday Kahlo's personality, not to document her life. Here, we see Frida as more than an artist. This novel imagines her as the person her sister knew, both good and bad. This is also an interesting read for those unfamiliar with Frida's life, because it gives a good overview of her experiences and passions.

Besides imagining Kahlo's familial relations, Frida offers readers a glimpse into Mexican history and politics: Mujica reconstructs life during post-revolutionary Mexico under Huertas dictatorship, when it was common for children of Zapata sympathizers to be kidnapped and killed. Mujica also explores the complicated and shifting experiences of foreigners in Mexico, contrasting an era when Europeans were welcomed with a time when they were resented and reviled.

Barbara Mujica is the author of two other novels: The Death of Don Bernardo and Affirmative Actions, as well as two collections of short stories. She was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has received the E.L. Doctorow International Fiction Competition, the Pangolin Prize, and many other awards and grants. Mujica writes for both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and is a professor of Spanish at Georgetown University.