Frida's Bed

Slavenka Drakulic, Author, Christina Pribichevich-Zoric, Translator , trans. from the Croatian by Christina P. Zoric. Penguin $13 (162p) ISBN 978-0-14-311415-4

In this carefully honed portrait that reads like a biography, Croatian author Drakulic (Café Europa ) distills Mexican painter Frida Kahlo's life into one consistent theme: pain. From her bout of polio at age six to the streetcar accident that ensured her lifelong dependence on painkillers, Kahlo was always accompanied by the specter of death. In dreamy flashbacks, Drakulic tells Frida's story: raised by an illiterate mother and an epileptic German father who was a photographer, she was the only one of her sisters to get an education. Toughened by her accident, Frida's boldness attracts celebrated mural artist Diego Rivera, whom she calls the Maestro. His love for her is different from his casual relationships with other women, yet also underscores the grotesqueness of her body. His philandering plagues Frida with feelings of rejection and inadequacy until her death at age 47. After Rivera's affair with her younger sister Kity, Frida's paintings move from hobby to burning need, a way to survive his betrayal and her own cursed physicality. Intensely moving, Drakulic's novelization works from inside the raw psyche outward. (Sept.)