Friday, 23 June 2017

Book Review: A Love Letter From a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths soul is amazing. Ever again it happens that instead of being crushed by a terrible experience a person draws great force from it and even succeeds in transcending it into a powerful incentive to stop just dreaming the impossible dream and to actually reach for the stars at last. Often only the closest family gets a chance to witness such personal growth born from suffering because seen from outside nothing has changed, but sometimes it’s the birth of a completely altered person who decides to make a fresh start into a new direction. It was a horrible bus accident at the age of eighteen that upset Frida Kahlo’s life and made her turn her attention to painting as a way of expressing herself. In A Love Letter from a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths the celebrated Mexican painter writes a poetical review of her turbulent and painful life from beyond her grave.

Jay Griffiths was born in Manchester, England, U.K., in 1965. After her studies of English Literature at Oxford University she travelled a lot and began to write columns for the radio, different magazines and papers. Her first book to appear was Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time (1999). It was followed by other non-fiction and occasionally fiction, namely Wild: An Elemental Journey (2006), Archipelago (2007), A Love Letter from a Stray Moon (2011), Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (2013), A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World (2014), Savage Grace: A Journey in Wildness (2015), and Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression (2016). Jay Griffiths lives in Mid Wales, U.K.

From life after death painter Frida Kahlo writes A Love Letter from a Stray Moon to the man of her life Diego Rivera. She looks back on her childhood, when she dreamt of having wings to fly free like a bird and up to the moon where she felt she belonged because she actually was the moon. She was a happy girl until polio damaged her leg and the other children, even her friends teased her cruelly. However, more tragic than polio from which she recovered so well that she could think of becoming a dancer was the blow that fate had in store for her when she was eighteen years old: the trolley car of a tramway crashed into the bus on which she was riding.
“The bus withstood the impact for a long engulfed moment and then cracked apart, shattering into a thousand pieces, and the handrail broke and speared through my body, piercing my pelvis, and my clothes were torn off me and the painter’s gold spilled all over me so I lay like a still life, or an icon, half-dead, half-alive. […]”
It was during the months of recovery when she realised that painting offered her a new way of flying, of expressing all the universes within her soul and of thus finding a thousand times over what she had lost. When she went to the muralist Diego Rivera, whom she had observed at work already when she was a child, to ask what he thought of her pictures, they were immediately infatuated with each other and they got married. Their relationship was passionate and turbulent, but also overshadowed by the consequences of Frida’s accident. The old injuries kept torturing her and she even lost a child because she couldn’t carry it out.
“I had just about learned to laugh at the physical pain, the fracture of my pelvis and my broken back, the endless rounds of surgery, being caged in a hospital bed, but the moment I had almost managed to cope, he fractured my heart, making of me an Aztec sacrifice. […]”
Diego Rivera had always had affairs with other women, it was finding him in bed with her fertile sister, though, that plunged her into inconsolable and infinite grief. They divorced. Frida’s health constantly declined, a leg was amputated and by the time when her first solo exhibition was to be opened she was little more than a skin-covered skeleton confined to bed.

With A Love Letter from a Stray Moon, written in first person from the point of view of celebrated Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) who is also its central figure, the author wrote less a fictionalised biography of the artist than a novella-length prose poem in her honour inspired just as much by her tragic history as by her impressive pictures. Its six chapters follow the chronology of decisive events in the painter’s life ending not with her death, but with herRisorgimento, i.e. with the uprising of all artists who reach for the stars or in Frida’s case for the moon and thus become immortal. As can be expected of a book evoking the life of a painter, the language is rich in powerful images that are often drawn directly from Frida Kahlo’s work like for instance the metaphors of Frida as the Moon, of her husband Diego as the Sun and of her sister as Mother Earth that anchor them in the universe. The use of stream-of-consciousness is meant to create the impression of a very personal account of the late painter herself, but sadly the author never manages to make forget that the voice is hers really.

As a biography of Frida Kahlo A Love Letter from a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths may be quite a disappointment, but as a poetical homage to the Mexican painter and her œuvre it’s certainly a treat. I read the novella in only one go enjoying above all the amazing wealth and beauty of lyrical expression. There are slightly vulgar passages ever again and some of them felt a bit out of place really because they disrupted the flow of the poetry. However, I reckon that the author meant them to illustrate Frida Kahlo’s provocative and shocking side that would otherwise have gone too short like her political convictions that appear mainly in passing allusions to the Zapatistas and Communist leaders like Trotzky or Stalin. Once finished the slim volume I felt the desire to learn more about this remarkable woman and her paintings, a fact that in itself is quite a recommendation.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I have seen that wonderful movie about her, starring Salma Hayek, twice! I have a novel on my shelf about her, The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F G Haghenbeck but I keep not getting to it. It is by a Mexican author. Then there is the Barbara Kingsolver novel, The Lacuna which has Frida and Diego as characters. Anyway she is someone who I admire and I will add this to my Frida Kahlo list.


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