IN THE CASA AZUL: A Novel of Revolution and Betrayal
A historical footnote—Leon Trotsky's six-week affair with painter Frida Kahlo during his exile in Mexico—blooms into a mesmerizing first novel by Australian writer Delahunt. After his expulsion from the Soviet Union, Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, are welcomed into the Mexico City home of leftist muralist Diego Rivera and his wife, the charismatic Kahlo. Thus begins the short but fervent affair between the Old Man (as Trotsky is called) and the young Kahlo—but Delahunt has a broader plan. She uses their relationship as the jumping-off point for a compendium of brief, urgent scenes offering a guided tour of early communism, from leftist Mexico and 1930s Spain to Stalinist Moscow, with a side trip to Trotsky's Ukrainian childhood. Inevitably, revolutionary politics give way to tragedy: Trotsky and Natalia amid an ever-shrinking circle of admirers in Mexico, their children all dead; Trotsky's father, thrown off his farm by Soviet collectivization; Nadezhda, Stalin's wife, committing suicide. Delahunt's ability to pare grand historical figures down to their all-too-human weaknesses is impressive, and the final glimpse of Stalin is itself worth the price of admission. Having ordered the murder of every competent doctor in Moscow because he can't face his own mortality, he lies on his deathbed, being fed oxygen by a gynecologist. In the end, this novel resembles nothing less than one of Rivera's famous murals—human activity everywhere, each figure burning for attention. (May)
Forecast:In The Casa Azul was a finalist for the U.K.'s prestigious Orange Prize and received strong reviews there. The Frida connection will also help sales, as Julie Taymore's biopic on the artist is due this spring.