The Blue House – the Casa Azul – at Coyocán in Mexico was Leon Trotsky’s final sanctuary from Stalin’s terror. Here he was befriended by the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and here, in August 1940, he died at the hands of the assassin Ramón Mercader. In a fascinating first novel, Meaghan Delahunt has written a fragmented, kaleidoscopic account of these last years of exile of the architect of world revolution.
Rather than write a straightforward and linear narrative, Delahunt has chosen the riskier strategy of attempting to reflect these turbulent times through the disputatious voices of the individual participants. We eavesdrop on the dialogue of the deaf that Stalin and Trotsky conducted throughout their lives and we hear the contrasting voices of their wives; Natalia, stoical in exile with her beloved Trotsky and Nadezhda Aliluyeva, increasingly disturbed at her husband’s murderous megalomania. The bodyguard who failed to protect Trotsky has his say, as does Mercader, the treacherous killer. The host of other voices, each jostling to convey their own interpretation of history, include Stalin’s police chief, Lavrenti Beria, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Bolshevik workers and doctors and, pulling the whole thing together, the passionate voice of Frida Kahlo.
Such a tumult of argument and opinions requires careful handling if it is not to descend into a cacophonous jumble. On the whole, Meaghan Delahunt manages splendidly to mesh her splintered narrative into a coherent and convincing portrait of a desperate time of revolution and war, hope and betrayal. She deserves high praise for a bold and striking debut.