Trotsky's Mexican affair

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In the Blue House
By Meaghan Delahunt
Bloomsbury, 2001
$35 (hb)

REVIEW BY KEVIN WILLIAMSON

There are few historical figures on the left who provoke such controversy, inspiration and opposition as that of the Russian revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky.

On paper, where Trotsky felt so much at home, his life reads like something out of a boy's own adventure story. He was pivotal in some of the great events of the first half of the 20th century including his central role during the Russian Revolution.

After the ideals of the October Revolution were abandoned by Stalin's brutal, nationalistic regime, for Trotsky the decades that followed were marked by permanent exile. He was constantly moving from country to country, pursued by the murderous shadow of Stalin's secret police.

Near the end of his life Trotsky and Natalia, his wife, came to live in Mexico as a guest of the brilliant and radical artist Diego Rivera and his equally talented wife Frida Kahlo. It was there that a short and doomed love affair between Trotsky and Kahlo began. This is the starting point for Edinburgh-resident, Australian-born author Meaghan Delahunt's debut novel, In The Blue House (named after Rivera and Kahlo's famous residence, the Casa Azul).

Through a combination of meticulous research and fictional licence Delahunt has woven an imaginative tour de force chronicling both the one-sided love affair between the artist and the revolutionary as well as the fierce rivalry between Trotsky and Stalin.

Delahunt's novel manages that rare thing: it pulls the reader into the thoughts and emotions of the main characters while simultaneously shedding light on some of the key events that shaped the destiny of the Soviet Union.

The method that Delahunt uses is highly ambitious. It is written from a variety of different perspectives: besides the two main political protagonists and Frida Kahlo, who are central, many of the other characters whose lives intertwined with those of Trotsky and Stalin also come alive. Cutting backwards and forwards chronologically, Delahunt gets inside the heads of Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda, who committed suicide; the poet Mayakovsky; Stalin's henchman, Beriya; Trotsky's assassin, Ramon Mercader; as well as many others including Trotsky's wife, Natalia, and his father, David Leontevich Bronstein.

The writing is flawless, most of the voices ring true and the author has a good understanding of why the Soviet Union turned out the way it did — which is a good enough recommendation in itself for checking it out.

[From the Scottish Socialist Voice <http://www.scottishsocialistvoice.net/>.]

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