Today I have decided to write a review of Frida’s Bed, a novel written by one of my favorite Croatian authors, Slavenka Drakulic. The literal translation of the original title (Frida ili o boli) is: Frida or ‘on pain’, which emphasizes one of the main themes of Drakulic’s novel: pain and love. And who could be a more suitable protagonist of such a novel than Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter who, due to her extensive health problems that followed her during her whole life, was very well acquainted with pain. Consequently, Kahlo’s pain was a recurrent theme in her art. One could say that Drakulic’s novel studies the intricate relationship between pain and creativity.
The novel begins at Frida’s childhood and tells the story how she was stricken with polio, and how she had to deal with a lifetime of physical and psychological pain as a consequence. The author manages to write about suffering in such an elaborate, and yet raw prose, that it is transformed into something beautiful and pure, something that enriches one’s life instead of debilitating it. There are some artists whose art is a mere intellectualism, a game, an experiment: on the other hand, Frida’s art is extremely personal and her emotions can be considered to be a driving force behind her painting.
Despite all the suffering she endures, Frida’s story can also be seen as an inspiration for all those who suffer from chronic condition, to encourage them to rise above a life full of pain and to try and participate in life as actively as possible instead. Without her illness, Frida would not have become an artist she eventually came to be. However, Drakulic not only shows us Frida as the famous artist, but she also offers us an intimate portrait of the women behind the artist. The style is simple and pure, but also poetic without being melodramatic, which couldn’t have been easy to achieve considering the chosen subject.
Drakulic’s collage-style composition works very well and creates a mesmerising effect on the reader. The author has clearly done her research on the life and work of Frida Khalo, however, she also offers us her own perception of what it might have been like to be Frida, resulting not only in a historically accurate but also emotionally compelling novel.
The takeaway? Creating art, or writing, can be an excellent way to relieve physical, or emotional pain and to escape from the prison of bodily limitations.
All in all, this book was a delightful read and I highly recommend it.