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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo" by Francisco Haghenbeck

When several notebooks were recently discovered among Frida Kahlo’s belongings at her home in Coyoacán, Mexico City, acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this beautifully wrought fictional account of her life. Haghenbeck imagines that, after Frida nearly died when a streetcar’s iron handrail pierced her abdomen during a traffic accident, she received one of the notebooks as a gift from her lover Tina Modotti. Frida called the notebook “The Hierba Santa Book” (The Sacred Herbs Book) and filled it with memories, ideas, and recipes.
Haghenbeck takes readers on a magical ride through Frida’s passionate life: her long and tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, the development of her art, her complex personality, her hunger for experience, and her ardent feminism. This stunning narrative also details her remarkable relationships with Georgia O’Keeffe, Leon Trotsky, Nelson Rockefeller, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Henry Miller, and Salvador Dalí. Combining rich, luscious prose with recipes from “The Hierba Santa Book,” Haghenbeck tells the extraordinary story of a woman whose life was as stunning a creation as her art.

Published by:  Atria/Simon and Schuster
Pages:  368
Genre:  Fiction/Historical
Author:  Francisco Haghenbeck
Learn More:  Frida Kahlo

Frida has been described as: "…one of history's grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera."


"Frida Kahlo's Secret Book" is a collection of recipes and journal entries that parodies her actual "The Hierba Santa Book" or notebooks.  To say this is an extraordinary novel is to be understated.  It's a rare adventure.  Lively and visual, this is a book that hits you at gut level in many ways.  From the impact of Frida's childhood illnesses, to her near deaths, to her heartaches and her life challenges, this novel chronicles her existence like a bowl of lush and over-ripe fruit.  Bursting with detail and flowing with visceral imagery, you can't help being drawn along a river of Death with it.

Frida coexists with Death.  Her every waking moment and her dreams are immersed in Death.  Her conversations and paintings/artwork...even her attire and interiors are inspired by her obsessiveness with it.  She lives with constant pain and that pain and her struggle with death at her door becomes her very existence.

This book is beautiful and dark.  I found it told in nearly fairytale fashion...like an original Grimm's Fairy Tale...sometimes ugly, yet beautiful and hypnotic at the same time.

I won't reiterate the summary, but will tell you that her life story is gorgeous and lush.  I was not always in agreement with her choices (far be it from me to make judgements!!), but I was always amazed and in awe of them!  I loved her panache and fearlessness, her over-blown manner no matter the occasion or the people she met.  I love her artwork, as well, and appreciated the book in terms of a background to those paintings and altars to the Dead.   What a strange and exotic creature she was.

"The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo" wouldn't be fully reviewed without my mentioning that it is packed full of recipes for the times and people she knew and cooked for.  Just amazing recipes for famous people such as her husband, Diego Rivera, and certain others including Georgia O'Keefe with whom she was rumored to have an affair.

Here's the recipe for Mole she cooked called "Georgia's Delights:"


1 lb. shredded beef
2  1/4 lbs. beef shank
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 onions, chopped
5 guajillo chilies, deseeded
4 Roma tomatoes
1 ear corn, husked & cut into chunks
2 carrots, peeled & sliced
2 squash, sliced
1 sprig epazote
1 prickly pear, peeled & cut into small squares
14 oz. pre-mixed masa rolled into small balls
Cilantro leaves
Lemons, sliced
Chopped onions

Saute meat with 1 garlic clove and 1 onion.  Then puree and strain chiles, tomatoes and remaining garlic clove and 1/4 onion.  Pour mixture into pan where meat was cooked.  Add salt, corn and carrots.  Cover and cook 45 minutes over low heat.  Add squash, epazote, pear and masa balls.  Cook for 10 more minutes.  Serve accompanied by onion, cilantro and lemon.

Enjoy!   And enjoy the entire book.  This one is a keeper on any shelf...your regular bookshelf or kitchen.

I loved it!

5 stars                   Deborah/TheBookishDame



This sounds superb!!

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