(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Novelist Barbara Mujica attempts a fresh look at a cultural icon in Frida. Frida Kahlo’s paintings are the most coveted of any Latin American artist. Just as sensational is her life, seething with sex, violence, and politics. Mujica imagines the painter’s sister, Christina, bearing witness to Frida’s turbulent existence.

Christina, or Christi, is by no means a dispassionate witness. The youngest of the four Kahlo daughters, she languishes in her remarkable sister’s shadow. Frida Kahlo transformed pain and disfigurement from childhood polio and a horrendous traffic accident into astonishing works of art.

Invariably Frida’s legend is interwoven with that of her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Frida and Diego’s rocky marriage brings the sisters’ sibling rivalry into sharp focus. Christi’s love/hate relationship with Frida intensifies when she joins the ranks of Rivera’s myriad lovers. The mix of devotion and remorse bonding Christi to Frida climax the night of the artist’s death, rumored to be a suicide, in 1954.

Despite Christi’s role as narrator, author Mujica never really succeeds in establishing her voice. Or is that the point? The reader cannot help but be riveted on Frida. Intentionally or not, the monster Mujica shows Frida Kahlo to be evokes as much pity and wonder as revulsion. And, ironically, the novel’s framing device—Christi “telling all” to a psychoanalyst—only deepens the mystery of Frida the artist.