Tinisima /

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Main Author: Poniatowska, Elena.
Other Authors: Silver, Katherine.
Format: Book
Published: New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996.
Edition:1st American ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

An intensely imagined, sensuously detailed account of the extraordinary life of photographer and militant revolutionary Tina Modotti (1896-1942), this compelling novel reflects the political and social turbulence of the 1920s through the '40s as experienced by a brave and vibrant woman who was an intimate of some of the leading poets, writers, artists and politicians of her time. Modotti lived various roles in her passionate life: she was a seamstress in San Francisco, an actress in silent films, a student and lover of photographer Edward Weston, a model for Diego Rivera's murals, an agent for the Soviet Union and always a cultural, intellectual and political vivant whose sensuous spirit captivated men and, for a time, the entire Mexican population (they called her Tinisima, a diminutive of her name but also an endearment). Tracing Modotti's footsteps to California, Mexico, Berlin, Moscow and Spain, Poniatowska adroitly interprets history without marginalizing the lyricism of Modotti's tragic quest for identity and true love. In Mexico in 1929, young Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella is assassinated while walking arm-in-arm with Modotti. Eager to rid the country of communist sympathizers, the government accuses Tina of his murder. Rivera and other prominent Mexican intelligentsia eventually help win her freedom. Expelled from Mexico, Modotti lives for a time in Moscow, becomes an agent for Red Aid, the international revolutionary organization, and works for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Tired and ill, in 1939 she returns to Mexico, where she remains unrecognized until her death, when Pablo Neruda immortalizes her in a poem. One of Mexico's leading writers, Poniatowska (Dear Diego) has made an art form of blending journalism and fiction. She tells this novel in an urgent present tense, segueing among short, vivid scenes with cinematic virtuosity. Ten years of research and a thorough knowledge of the currents of history contribute to this portrait, but equally important is Poniatowska's intuitive appreciation of a woman shaped and destroyed by her tumultuous times. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A dramatic, fast-paced fictionalization of the life of photographer and political activist Tina Modotti, by the Mexican author whose works in English translation include the novel Dear Diego (not reviewed) and the nonfiction Massacre in Mexico (1975). Poniatowska begins her crowded narrative in 1929, with the assassination of radical leader Julio Antonio Mella, Modotti's comrade-in-arms and common-law husband, and with her arrest and interrogation by authorities convinced that she knows the identity of his murderer. Then the story plunges into an extended flashback, to the WW I years when the Mexican-born ``Tinisima'' worked as a model, ``acted'' in MGM films (``I was always the harem girl, the villain, the gypsy''). There follows her long relationship with American photographer Edward Weston (as his model, then lover), her years as a ``Communist militant,'' and work for the International Red Aid, helping to resettle political refugees, and--in a vividly detailed segment worthy of comparison with Hemingway's writing on this subject--her perilous and exhausting sojourn in Spain during its Civil War. This is a very ambitious book: The century's formative political events pass by as if we're seeing them in an extended newsreel, and sharp, if frustratingly brief, cameo appearances are made by such notables as D.H. Lawrence, Diego Rivera, ``Volodya'' Mayakovsky, Alexandra Kollontai, and David Siqueiros. Poniatowska offers an especially lively characterization of the bohemian Edward Weston, stressing both his free-spirited unconventionality and his deeply held leftist principles. But she never gives us nearly as full or credible a portrayal of her potentially fascinating heroine: Modotti isn't much more, in these pages, than the sum of her enthusiasms and commitments. We know her political nature intimately, but the inner woman stays remote from us. It's a glaring weakness in an otherwise accomplished and seductively readable work. One appreciates the energy and specificity that sparkle throughout, but one misses the novel it might have been.

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