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The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo
by F. G. Haghenbeck


“The Hierba Santa Book” was a little black book containing Day of the Dead recipes, assembled by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It was not just a cookbook, but a chronicle of the artist's life; each recipe had been preserved in response to the tragic events and perpetual pain that she faced. The recipes were also a tribute to the Lady of Death, with whom Frida had struck a terrible deal when she was fifteen years old. After a horrific bus accident, the young girl – not yet an artist – was scheduled to die, but she convinced Death to accept a self-portrait, a new one each year, to hold Frida's place in the afterlife so that she could live on. Death smiled and agreed, but warned Frida that she could never shake off her 'godmother' completely – every day, she would suffer and wish that she had died in the bus crash. As the years pass, Frida becomes a famous painter and marries the love of her life, but happiness eludes her as constant tragedy envelopes her life. Yet even in her darkest moments, with only pain and sorrow for companions, Frida finds comfort in food and in the special recipes guarded in her secret book.

There are dozens of biographies and fictional accounts of the life of Frida Kahlo out there in the world, but off the top of my head I don't know of another that focuses so strongly on food and its power to restore, heal, and create community. Each chapter tells a part of Frida's life story and ends with one or two relevant recipes – meant to be excerpts from the Hierba Santa – and Frida's personal notes on the dish. Of course, the narrative portion of the chapter often contains rich, mouth-watering descriptions of the food Frida prepares, and it makes me want to try every single recipe in this book. This is especially impressive given that I actually don't care for spicy food all that much, and nearly every recipe contains chiles and peppers. But it sounds so delicious!

If the food angle doesn't interest you, the book's still a great introduction to the drama of Frida Kahlo's life. Her life (and afterlife) is one of the most interesting amongst twentieth century artists, and she's one of the few Mexican women who have become a household name outside her home country. Even if you've read books about Frida Kahlo before, I think you'll find something new here. The book reads something like a fairy tale, since Kahlo's special connection to Death influences her entire life. She sees figures that no one else can, like a pale rider, dressed like a Mexican rebel, who acts as Death's herald. Or she'll have a vision that brings a dead woman back to life, or gives her pet rooster a human-like form and the ability to speak. And, of course, there are the paintings. With a few exceptions, most of Frida's paintings were self-portraits, and many of the chapters explore the connections between Frida's life and how it was translated onto the canvas of a given portrait, revealing her inner world to anyone who gazed upon the canvas.

I thought this was a beautiful book; the magical elements seemed perfectly suited to the Frida Kahlo we meet in her portraits. I'm not familiar enough with Kahlo's life to comment definitively on the accuracy the book is in terms of chronology and its depictions of her many relationships with family, friends and lovers – but based on what I remember from art history courses and previous explorations of her life, there weren't any major discrepancies.


4 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.




Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Rin-Ne Vol. 1 by Rumiko Takahashi
2010: News: Updating Covers of Classic Kids' Books
2009: 10 Comic Book Series You Need To Read, Part Two
2008: Book Group Expo, Day One

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
muse_books
Jan. 9th, 2013 11:30 pm (UTC)
This book sounds amazing. Have got myself a copy.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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