From Publishers Weekly
Impatient with well-meaning but overly pious leftist and feminist accounts, historian Argenteri here looks to place Modotti (1896-1942) deeply within her social moment, and consequently devotes little direct attention to Modotti's famed modernist photographs. Though Argenteri covers far more, the bare facts include Modotti's 1913 emigration from Udine to San Francisco; her transformation from seamstress to a brief period as a stage and screen actress (playing Mexican women in two films); her time with artist-activist Robo de Richey that brought her into close and compelling contact with the cultural wing of Mexican communism; and her seven-year stint as the apprentice and lover of photographer Edward Weston in early 1920's Mexico, where Modotti did much of her major work. Modotti joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1927, and took up with Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella. When Mella was murdered, Modotti became a prime if implausible suspect; when the Mexican president was assassinated, she was accused and deported. In Moscow she fell in love with the Stalinist Vittorio Vidali, and in 1934 left with him for Spain. Throughout the Civil War, Modotti worked as a Red Aid nurse (she is the alleged model for Hemingway's Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls), while Vidali executed those deemed a threat to the popular front. With the temperateness that characterizes her study, Italian scholar Argenteri assesses Modotti's oft-suppressed knowledge of these murders. Most sympathetically, she suggests that unlike Vidali and other comrades, Modotti never recovered from the shock of the failed Civil War. She returned to Mexico a weary refugee, and lived alone in a tiny house until her mysterious death in a taxi at age 46. While Octavio Paz claimed that Modotti belonged "'more to the history of passions than to the history of ideologies,'" Argenteri stresses her devotion to communism, a moveable cause more constant than any of her lovers but as fallibly human as all of them. A 60-page b&w photo insert shows Modotti at many stages of her life, along with some of her work.
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The spellbinding story of a daughter of poor immigrants whose passion for life brought her renown as an artist, a revolutionary, and a lover of great men.