In the Casa Azul

Many details of In the Casa Azul: A Novel of Revolution and Betrayal are historical, even though author Meaghan Delahunt has taken some liberties with chronology, beginning in 1954 and working backward. The Casa Azul (Blue House) is the Mexico City home of artist Frida Kahlo, who with her husband Diego Rivera offers refuge to the revolutionary Leon Trotsky after he is exiled from the Soviet Union by dictator Josef Stalin. Notable for its fine writing and powerful visual images, the book opens with a terrifying (and accurate) view of Kahlo’s body, sitting upright amid crematory flames, her hair ablaze.

This intricate and fascinating tale, set in Mexico and the Soviet Union, is narrated by a montage of voices. Delahunt focuses briefly on the affair between Kahlo and Trotsky, but mostly on the greater struggle between political factions headed by Trotsky and Stalin. The novel explores the period between 1889 and 1955 to include the Bolshevik Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, although much of the action takes place in 1940 (the year of Trotsky’s assassination) and 1954.

Betrayal, a key theme throughout, is embodied in papier-mache figures of the traitor Judas that are traditionally exploded in Mexico during Holy Week. The author evokes a colorful, impressionistic world peopled also by fictional characters, the most significant of whom are a maker of Judas figures and symbol of Mexico’s indigenous people, and a Moscow construction engineer struggling to survive. Illumined by hunger and poverty, lies and deception, and political and personal terror, here is a chilling portrait of the deep ideological split between supporters of Trotsky and Stalin in the early twentieth century.