May 16, 2011

Review: Frida's Bed: A Novel by Slavenka Drakulic

I have long been a fierce admirer of Frida Kahlo and her paintings. Frida Kahlo's life is straight out of a movie script. It is hard to believe how much pain she went through, both physically and emotionally, and how she used what happened to her to become a world famous artist.

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico. At the age of 6, she was diagnosed with polio, which left her physically altered and ashamed as a child. Then in 1925, when she was a young adult, Frida was riding a trolley with her boyfriend, Alex, when the trolley was in an accident. Alex was okay, but Frida was left barely clinging to life- she suffered broken ribs, a broken spinal column in three places, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated foot, a broken collarbone, and a dislocated shoulder. Not only this- an iron handrail went through her abdomen and her uterus and came out through her vagina.


I will let you recover from that for a minute.

The accident, obviously, left her in a great deal of pain. She was in a full body cast. She had numerous operations to repair the damage. She did recover from her injuries enough to walk with a cane, but she remained in pain her entire life. Many historians and experts now say they believe Frida also suffered from fibromyalgia after the accident. Fibromyalgia, if the person has the genetic components for it, can lay dormant in a person until a trauma brings it to life, so to speak.

As you probably know, I have fibromyalgia and spinal pain. Although I never have had a trauma, especially not like Frida's trauma, I can relate to her never-ending pain and the crushing weight of knowing your life will never be the same. Even though I am confident ninety-five percent of the time, I have also often felt that I didn't deserve certain things because I am sick and "broken" compared to the typical person, especially the typical person my age.

In Drakulic's book, she reveals what Frida must have been thinking throughout her life- her thoughts on how she felt being made fun of in grade school because of her leg, her thoughts on whether or not she deserved her husband, world famous painter Diego Rievera's, complete affection and fidelity, her thoughts on what it must feel like to be healthy and not be constantly aware of everything on your body and to just live life. However, Frida used her pain and suffering and did not just throw herself a pity party, which I admire and appreciate. She made wonderful paintings that showed what she was going through- they are raw and graphic and beautiful all at the same time.

Drakulic wrote a wonderfully thoughtful book about Frida, her life, and her paintings. The jump from Frida's life to explaining how a painting reveals her feelings and thoughts of the part of her life discussed is a little abrupt. There is no real segue, it is just the next paragraph in italics. I think I would have liked it if it were separated more, perhaps as an ending to a chapter. There were no chapters or breaks, so it went from Frida's life to italicized commentary on her paintings, right back to Frida's life. Jumpy. However I will add that the abruptness could have something to do with the novel's translation from Croatian to English.

Overall it is a good book and one I recommend if you are interested in Frida Kahlo, her life, and her art.


"She even noticed herself differently. Looking at her face in the mirror, she noticed that her youthful skin didn't match her dark, almost scowling gaze. I am getting old, she thought, age is already showing in my eyes. I feel as if I learned everything all at once, in an instant. My friends are gradually becoming women, but I aged instantaneously. It is as if everything has become quite simple and I know that there is nothing there on the other side, because if there were, I would see it." pg. 24

"What especially impressed the Maestro was the fact that she had preferred to paint rather than use her illness as an excuse to do nothing. There was something unusual, admirable about this girl, about her brusqueness, her thirst for life that was so evident in her every movement." pg. 30

I very much encourage you to look at her paintings here and see how much of her heart and soul and pain were put into the artwork.


  1. I have this book, but haven't read it yet. I too am a big fan of Kahlo's work. A couple of years ago, a local contemporary art museum hosted an exhibit of her work--it was so wonderful to see it in person.

  2. Wow, it makes you wonder how one person can stand so much pain in their life. This book sounds so good.

  3. I've just finished reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, which also features Frida Kahlo, and it made me interested in reading more about her, so I'll look out for this book.

  4. Great post, Rebecca! I saw the movie based on Kahlo's life several years ago; it's worth checking out.

  5. Every time I read about that trolley accident I cringe.

  6. I read the Frida bio that was popular right when the movie came out and loved it! Movie was great, too. I might have to read this now - you've piqued my interest all over again.


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