I, like many others, am a fan of Frida Kahlo. Her life and her art have interested me for many years, so when I saw this available for request on NetGalley I knew I had to read it. My request was approved in exchange for an honest review, and here we are!
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo adored adventure. In November, 1930, she was thrilled to realize her dream of traveling to the United States to live in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York. Still, leaving her family and her country for the first time was monumental.
Only twenty-three and newly married to the already world-famous forty-three-year-old Diego Rivera, she was at a crossroads in her life and this new place, one filled with magnificent beauty, horrific poverty, racial tension, anti-Semitism, ethnic diversity, bland Midwestern food, and a thriving music scene, pushed Frida in unexpected directions. Shifts in her style of painting began to appear, cracks in her marriage widened, and tragedy struck, twice while she was living in Detroit.
Frida in America is the first in-depth biography of these formative years spent in Gringolandia, a place Frida couldn’t always understand. But it’s precisely her feelings of being a stranger in a strange land that fueled her creative passions and an even stronger sense of Mexican identity. With vivid detail, Frida in America recreates the pivotal journey that made Senora Rivera the world famous Frida Kahlo.
Shocking rating, right? I really thought I was going to love this book. While there are definitely portions of the book I really enjoyed, I found myself skimming a lot of the sections and growing bored.
This book takes a deep dive into Frida Kahlo’s transformative years in the US and how they impacted her as a person, her art, and her relationships. It’s clear that the author has done extensive research and respects Frida. However, I really couldn’t connect with a lot of the book. For one, the timeline is all over the place and the author includes too many dates to keep track of it all. On top of this, the author goes off on a lot of tangents. We can start a sentence talking about Frida’s life and end it talking about how DaVinci is actually the Mona Lisa. Huh?? Through these tangents I will admit that the author introduced some interesting topics, but I felt like she would say one small thing about Frida and turn it into a poor segue to a side topic. A good way to describe the writing is “chaotic”.
The author also goes on a lot about the symbolism in Frida’s life and artwork. While I understand that symbolism was, at least as the author claims, a big part of who Frida was, I didn’t want to read pages upon pages of the author’s own analysis of Frida’s artwork. The author often brought up the same points, making the writing even more chaotic and cyclical. I ended up skimming most of these passages since I felt they didn’t give me any of the information I was seeking in this book.
Another complaint with this book is the lack of photos. I know this is a digital arc so they may have been excluded in just this edition, but it’s really hard to understand the importance of some of the passages that reference Frida’s artwork without seeing the art. I ended up having to look them up, which wouldn’t be so inconvenient had I not been both reading and having to research on my phone, making it impossible to compare side-by-side.
I’ll admit that I’m not really a biography reader so it took me awhile to get through this book. I personally could have done without all the analysis of Frida’s work, which would have made the book shorter and more digestible for the likes of me, but that’s definitely coming from my mostly fiction background.
I know I have a lot of complaints listed, but the book isn’t really all that terrible. I did end up learning a lot about Frida and I really enjoyed the emphasis on her time in the US. As I mentioned earlier, the author has done extensive research in order to write this book. She often cites passages from letters, testimonies from family members, and uses context within Frida’s social circles to paint a vivid image of who Frida Kahlo was. The writing may not flow very well but the way the author describes everything makes you feel close to Frida in a way I wasn’t expecting from a biography.
Although I ended up not liking much of the book, I did learn about Frida’s life and how it shaped her art. And I’ll admit, some of the tangents the author went on were interesting, though I maintain that they took away from the main point of the book. It felt like a lot of time and care went into this book and I can appreciate that, it just didn’t end up being the book I thought it would be.