cover image Tinisima


Elena Poniatowska. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27785-7

An intensely imagined, sensuously detailed account of the extraordinary life of photographer and militant revolutionary Tina Modotti (1896-1942), this compelling novel reflects the political and social turbulence of the 1920s through the '40s as experienced by a brave and vibrant woman who was an intimate of some of the leading poets, writers, artists and politicians of her time. Modotti lived various roles in her passionate life: she was a seamstress in San Francisco, an actress in silent films, a student and lover of photographer Edward Weston, a model for Diego Rivera's murals, an agent for the Soviet Union and always a cultural, intellectual and political vivant whose sensuous spirit captivated men and, for a time, the entire Mexican population (they called her Tinisima, a diminutive of her name but also an endearment). Tracing Modotti's footsteps to California, Mexico, Berlin, Moscow and Spain, Poniatowska adroitly interprets history without marginalizing the lyricism of Modotti's tragic quest for identity and true love. In Mexico in 1929, young Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella is assassinated while walking arm-in-arm with Modotti. Eager to rid the country of communist sympathizers, the government accuses Tina of his murder. Rivera and other prominent Mexican intelligentsia eventually help win her freedom. Expelled from Mexico, Modotti lives for a time in Moscow, becomes an agent for Red Aid, the international revolutionary organization, and works for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Tired and ill, in 1939 she returns to Mexico, where she remains unrecognized until her death, when Pablo Neruda immortalizes her in a poem. One of Mexico's leading writers, Poniatowska (Dear Diego) has made an art form of blending journalism and fiction. She tells this novel in an urgent present tense, segueing among short, vivid scenes with cinematic virtuosity. Ten years of research and a thorough knowledge of the currents of history contribute to this portrait, but equally important is Poniatowska's intuitive appreciation of a woman shaped and destroyed by her tumultuous times. (Oct.)