If you are looking for an intelligent political novel you should definitely pick up a copy of In the Blue House by Meaghan Delahunt. It is a fictional account of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky's last years in exile in Mexico.
It is told through the stories of various characters. These include Trotsky himself, his wife Natalia Sedova, Stalin, Frida Kahlo and Ramon Mercador, Trotsky's executioner. These different voices are used to create a rich and evocative mosaic of historical fact and imagined experience. The novel moves backwards and forwards in time, but leads inexorably to Trotsky's murder in 1940.
The background to the book is a period of immense political turmoil. There was the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the victory of Stalinism in Russia, and the rise of Hitler. Delahunt doesn't simply tell the story of these events. She searches for the political and personal motives of the participants. So Jordi Marr, Trotsky's secretary, tells of his experience fighting Franco (and Stalin) in Spain.
Rosita Moreno, a Mexican woman who makes models for festivals, describes her Communist husband's life. In the Blue House contrasts the crushing of individuality and spirit under Stalin with the colour and vitality of life in Mexico.
Mexico is shown through lush landscapes, colourful markets, and especially through Frida Kahlo's paintings. In Russia, Delahunt movingly describes the despair of old Bolsheviks, workers and artists forced into submission or suicide.
She also imagines how the exiled Trotsky responded to the death of his children, friends and comrades. Delahunt illustrates the importance of Trotsky's fight against Stalin without heavy handed rhetoric, and with a real vision of socialism. Delahunt was a Trotskyist in Australia. She came to feel that the party stifled her individuality.
In places she seems to vent her frustrations on her characters. This is especially true in the case of Trotsky, who appears mechanical and one dimensional.
Speculating about the emotional life of real historical figures is a difficult trick to pull off, and Delahunt does hit a few wrong notes. But overall this is a beautifully written book. It is utterly damning of Stalinism, showing the intimate effects of political brutality.
The novel shows how individuals cope with the crushing of their revolutionary hope.
In the Blue House is available from Bookmarks for £6.99. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to » www.bookmarks.uk.com