The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
publishes 2009 Part 3
[A party in Mexico in 1937]
“..The Riveras made the largest-ever fiesta, hired marimbas, the patio and house filled entirely. The security men nearly exploded from nerves. The guests are not artistic Communists any more but peasants, white-trousered men in huaraches, unionists who support Lev. The women entered shyly with their heads down, braids nearly sweeping the courtyard stones. A few brought live chickens as gifts, their feet tied nicely with henequen ribbon. But the cooking for this fiesta started a week ago.
Senora Frida was especially extravagant in a gold Tehuana blouse, green skirt, and blue shawl. She arrived with a large parcel wrapped up in in paper: a portrait of herself, a birthday gift for Lev. Somehow it did not get presented, in the middle of so much celebration…
[At a later event] And Frida: if anything can get her out of bed it’s a party. She showed up in a wild tehuana dress with a bodice of ribbons, and her hair brushed out in a wave like a motion picture star…”
Frida is the artist Frida Kahlo, her husband is the artist Diego Rivera, Lev is Leon Trotsky: this is a book about real people, a novelization of history, though the facts of her life are more extraordinary than most novels. Reading this book, or seeing the excellent film biography directed by Julie Taymor and starring Selma Hayek, you keep thinking ‘well this can’t be true’ and going to check the facts of her life. By some bizarre mistake, Amazon & Kindle refer to The Lacuna as 'A Novel of Lake Wobegon' - it's hard to think of a less likely combination.
‘Tehuana’ refers to a Mexican city, Tehuantepec, the centre of Zapotec culture, known for its women and their matriarchal culture, as well as their traditional dress, according to Wikipedia. Henequen is a fibre produced from the agave plant.
In the book a character later writes to Frida: “However badly broken, you still stand up. In your Tehuana dresses in your garden with the pomegranate trees bending toward you to open their red flowers. No matter what happens, you will still be at the centre of the world.”
The photographs (which are of Tehuana women, not of Frida Kahlo) are from the DeGolyer library of Southern Methodist University, and can be found on Flickr. You can see a 1943 Frida Kahlo picture called ‘Self-portrait as a Tehuana, Diego in my thoughts’ here.