Socialist View, No. 15, Spring 2006

In the Casa Azul

Written by Meaghan Delahunt and reviewed by Carol Barnett

Meaghan Delahunt's book "In the Casa Azul" (the blue house) is a fictional historical novel describing the period of Trotsky's exile in Mexico and the events leading up to both his death in 1940 and Stalin's in 1953.

Readers may find it difficult to initially "get into" this book.

Its structure is fragmented, chapters dart from one time period to another and sometimes swiftly from character to character making it at first difficult to follow.

The book begins with the funeral of the artist Frida Kahlo with whom Trotsky had a brief love affair and whose husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, had influenced the Mexican government to admit Trotsky as an exile in 1937. There is an underlying theme throughout the book portraying Trotsky as a lovesick teenager so obsessed with Kahlo that he thinks about her all the time and had prepared to leave his wife for her. In contrast, Trotsky's wife Natalia is portrayed as showing unswerving love and devotion and willing to overlook the personal sacrifices she made in her choice to be with Trotsky.

Although the inconsistencies pre-revolution between wealth and poverty are acknowledged, the book portrays Trotsky and Stalin as two men with inflated egos who ruined the country with their conflicting ideas without any analysis into the revolution and its aftermath. We read clips from Trotsky's father unable to understand why Trotsky wanted to change the system and Stalin's wife who becomes uncomfortable with her husband's role in the system and his paranoid behaviour about being betrayed. It also reflects on one of Stalin's many defects - a deficiency of imagination and inflexibility.

Other characters in the book portray the life of the men who fought for the revolution and were then hunted down and executed. She contrsts the engineer who was responsible for overseeing the building of the new luxurious metro system using marble and chandeliers to become the symbol of the new Moscow with the lives of the workers who worked on it including many political prisoners who lived in poverty conditions.

Despite some of the factual inaccuracies of the book, it is well written and for those who have little knowledge of the Russian revolution, it gives an easy to read account of the personal lives of two major historical figures that may whet the appetite for more knowledge of them and the people who surrounded them. The book does not explain any of Trotsky's political ideas and, as it portrays him as someone who is egotistical and prone to mood swings if things aren't quite right for him, it is dangerous in that readers are given an unbalanced view about who Trotsky was. For readers who have studied Trotsky and this period the book gives a flavour of the personal minutiae of daily life but this is the extent of its substance.

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This article is from the Spring 2006 edition of Socialist View.

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