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Dear Diego is based on one chapter of Bertram Wolfe’s The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera (1963). The novel is a fictionalized portrayal of Quiela (the Russian painter Angelina Beloff) as a broken-hearted lover waiting for the well-known painter Diego Rivera to send for her from Mexico City.

Dear Diego is divided into twelve love letters dated from October 19, 1921, through July 22, 1922—nine months in which Quiela, in spite of her desperation and longing for her lover, creates her own work as an illustrator for the Parisian magazine Floreal. By painting in nine months exactly, she affirms her identity through the art that Diego Rivera represents for her. The letters are followed by a brief narrative at the end of the book.

The book begins as Quiela is waiting for her lover. She expects him to send for her, but toward the end of the novel she realizes that he does not need her anymore. On one level, the narrative is about one woman in love with someone who does not want her; at the same time, it is about the aesthetic process of painting without the influence of her lover, a process that makes Quiela a newborn woman at the end.

The plot of the novel is fairly straightforward: Angelina Beloff (Quiela), a Russian painter in Paris, falls in love with the Mexican painter Diego Rivera. They live together for ten years. Diego Rivera goes back to Mexico in order to participate in the new beginning of his country after the Mexican revolution, and he forgets about her. Although he sends some money for Quiela, he never answers any of her letters. Quiela (the nickname Rivera gave her) writes him several times about how much she loves him and how important his ideas about painting have been for her. In a sense, he becomes a mentor for her. These episodes are brought out in Quiela’s letters. The short concluding narrative describes Quiela’s trip to Mexico in 1935, thirteen years after she has stopped writing. She does not look for Rivera, but she runs into him at a theater in Mexico City. He does not recognize her. The incident can be interpreted in two ways: Either Rivera has forgotten her to the point that he does not even recognize her, or, alternatively, the woman he sees is no longer the heartbroken lover of Paris but a new Angelina Beloff, an artist who has her own life and art and who does not need him anymore.

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