Slavenka Drakulic, Frida’s Bed
Publisher: Penguin Group
2008, 162 pages, paperback, $13
slavenka drakulic’s frida’s Bed is a creative biography of Frida Kahlo–a melding of biography and fiction–as well as a thoughtful analysis of her art. The novel is an homage to Kahlo’s endurance through a lifetime of adversity, from her battle with polio at age six, to the harrowing streetcar accident that left her in chronic pain, to her tempestuous marriage with artist Diego Rivera, and finally to the agony of her death. In this English translation of the original Croatian novel, Drakulic chronicles the life of the Mexican artist and twentieth-century icon. The text fluctuates between biography and fictionalized first-person accounts of how Kahlo may have reflected upon life from her deathbed.
Woven into this tapestry of fact and creativity are intermittent comments by Drakulic on Frida’s art, paintings that correspond to the linear telling of her tale. Drakulic describes Frida’s life as “A succession of related illnesses turned into a lengthy, almost continuous test of endurance and pain. She was increasingly forced to concentrate on herself.” Essentially, then, it is appropriate that Drakulic chose to structure her novel in such a way as to consider the role Kahlo’s art played in her own capacity to self-express, and in her ability to live through hardships. Kahlo herself admitted to the loneliness of her reality, which she was able to communicate only through her art, stating, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone … because I am the subject I know best … I’ve done my paintings well … and they have a message of pain in them.”
In her novel, Drakulic successfully intertwines the true with the speculative, and seamlessly connects the meaning of Kahlo’s art to the events in her tragic existence. For those simply intrigued by her life, however, Frida’s Bed also provides a detailed depiction of Frida Kahlo, the artist and woman.