The Hammer, Sickle, and the Heart

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot      December 11, 2020

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The Hammer, Sickle, and the Heart
Topanga is a community that, historically, includes a plethora of creative, productive artists, musicians, and writers in residence. Among our present population is writer C.P. Rosenthal. He has authored 12 novels, a memoir, two books of narrative essays, a book of animal philosophy, and has co-authored two books of experimental poetry. Rosenthal calls his newest work, “The Hammer, The Sickle and The Heart: Trotsky and Kahlo in Mexico,” a “realist novel.” The story follows the last years of Leon Trotsky, a leading Marxist revolutionary of the 20th century, who saw his dream of communism turn into the nightmare that cost the lives of millions of people worldwide. In the battle for power following the death of Lenin, Trotsky lost out to Stalin and was exiled. Stalin purged Russia of his enemies both in Russia and abroad, including Trotsky, who was assassinated in Mexico in 1940 by a Soviet agent, Ramon Mercader, who plunged an ice pick into Trotsky’s head. The characters in Rosenthal’s book are historical figures. The artists, Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, initially sponsor and protect Trotsky. Then Kahlo seduces him, causing pain and humiliation to Trotsky’s dedicated partner, Natalia Sedova. Various figures from the art world appear, some friends, some pro-Stalinist enemies. Rosenthal’s dynamic, visceral narrative gives the reader the feeling of experiencing the events portrayed in real time. Self-serving, power- hungry disregard for the consequences of obsessive wants, behaviors, and actions weaves a tapestry of tragedy in this tale. Rosenthal took five years to research this, his first “realist” book, and two years to write it and is mindful about taking liberties with time lines and conversations. The book assumes some basic knowledge of history. I like reading something that makes me want to know more, and I found myself looking up a lot of the characters to find out who they really were and what happened to them. I learned a lot!
Paula Labrot

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December 11, 2020

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