Don’t get me wrong, I love history, but sometimes I need a more satisfying narrative. Here are a few titles that will transport you to another time and place and you may learn a little history at the same time:
Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck
This fictionalized version of Frida Kahlo’s life is based on a recently discovered notebook in which Kahlo recorded her thoughts, recollections and (wonderfully) her recipes for offerings on the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. This holiday celebrates the return to earth of dearly departed ancestors. Altars are filled with marigolds, incense, candy sugar skulls, sweet pastries, old photographs and candles to light the way to the next life.
Día de los Muertos held great significance in Kahlo’s life after a horrific traffic accident in which a hand rail impaled her, breaking both spine and hip. The author surmises Kahlo felt a special connection to death after that, going so far as to personify it as a Godmother. During a year long convalescence she started to paint. The injuries would leave her with chronic pain and complications for the rest of her life.
The book follows the span of Kahlo’s life as: artist, Communist, feminist and her on again, off again lifelong love affair with Diego Rivera. The recipes themselves are reason enough to read this book; most notably Drunken Salsa and Tequila Pork Loin. I had never been interested in Kahlo’s work, but this book prompted me to learn more about her and her work in the context of her suffering.
Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb
This novel is based on a true story of a woman murdered in North Carolina shortly after the Civil War. The event was made famous by a song of the same name by the Kingston Trio.
The story is told first hand alternately by cousins, Pauline and Laura Foster and Zebulon Vance, the erstwhile governor of North Carolina and the defense attorney for Tom Dula at trial. The voice actors in the audio version are brilliant. The characters involved have very few, if any likable traits, but you get a sense of the grinding nature of poverty, the physical and mental trauma done by the Civil War and the social stagnation dictated by class and wealth.
McCrumb expertly researched the event, going through legal records and traveling to the towns in North Carolina. It is utterly compelling and surprisingly funny at times. With the help of historians and lawyers she discovered missing evidence that shed light on this famous tale.
~posted by Kathryn J.