Picks and Pans Review: Dear Diego

updated 07/07/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/07/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Elena Poniatowska

"I think painting is like that, you forget everything, you lose all sense of time, of other people, of obligations, of daily life that spins around you without your even noticing it," writes Angelina Beloff in Paris to the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, in one of the dozen imagined letters in this intriguingly original novel. (In real life, Beloff, a young Russian painter, lived with Rivera for 10 years. They were an exotic couple: He was huge and swarthy, she a pale girl with a blue aura. They had a son together, but he died, and Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921.) In the novel many of the familiar names in Paris of that period are dropped—Gris, Picasso, Modigliani. From time to time, Rivera sends Beloff some money, but never a word—despite all her vows of devotion, her pleading that he at the least acknowledge their long affair. This little book about love and the lives of artists was written by a Mexican novelist and journalist. It effectively evokes a time and place and larger-than-life characters with amazing economy of language. In a poignant postscript the author says that in 1935 Beloff finally went to Mexico, but she did not look up Rivera. They met by accident in a theater. He passed by without showing any sign of recognizing her. (Pantheon, $10.95)

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