About the Book


About Ruth Ageloff Poulos

The Model for Lilly

Ruth Poulos was the daughter of Russian immigrants Anna Maslow and Samuel Ageloff. In 1936 and 37 she lived in Mexico City as secretary to Leon Trotsky and to the John Dewey Commission.She was a graduate of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. In her 50s, she became a psychoanalyst and maintained a practice into her 80s. Ruth died in January, 2009.

About Sylvia Ageloff

The Model for Gertie

The NKVD assumed that Sylvia Ageloff, a Brooklyn social worker, Trotskyist sympathizer and sister of Ruth Ageloff, would be attending a conference of Trotsky's Fourth International in France in the summer of 1938.The NKVD used Ruby Weil, an acquaintance of Ageloff, to travel to Europe with her and set her up with Ramon Mercader. 

About Samuel Ageloff

The Model for Tateh

Samuel Ageloff was born in 1884, in Russia. He arrived in the U.S.A. when he was sixteen. In 1907 he came to Brooklyn and entered the real estate field.

Until 1917 he was chiefly interested in remodeling family dwellings, but was later a pioneer in the construction of public garages. He also built dwellings in Coney Island and Bensonhurst and stores on Flatbush Avenue. Later, he built apartment houses in Williamsburg and leased office buildings for ninety-nine years and rented the offices, including an office building opposite the Academy of Music.

“Wonderful,” Dewey smiled as he looked up at the bird.

“What an amazing bird,” Lilly whispered.

“I think it’s a toucan,” Dewey said. Lilly was surprised Dewey would take interest in a bird.

About Radical Intellectuals in the 1930’s

From the twenties to the forties the majority of anti-capitalist American intellectuals passed through three phases in response to the national and world events of the time. From the stock market crash to Hitler’s victory and Roosevelt’s assumption of office they swung sharply to the left. From 1933 to the Moscow trials splits deepened between Stalinists and Trotskyists. From 1937 through the crushing of the Spanish revolution, the Stalin-Hitler pact and entry into the Second World War many of them turned away from radicalism.  For a further discussion of this topic see: George Novack, "Radical Intellectuals in the 1930's," International Socialist Review, Vol. 29, No. 2, March-April 1968, pp. 21-34.

About Frida Kahlo

Kahlo contracted polio when she was 6 years old. As a result, one leg was thinner than the other and she had a deformed foot. Then at 18 she was riding a bus in Mexico City when it collided with a trolley. Her spine was shattered, her pelvis fractured, forcing her to spend the next three months in a body cast and she was bedridden for a year, completely immobilized. For lack of anything else to do, she began to paint because she could do that lying down. Perhaps she began using herself as her main subject because she could look at herself in the mirror while lying flat on her back. Kahlo once said, “I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint.” For more on Frida Kahlo see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-after-50/201701/was-frida-kahlo-narcissist

About Diego Rivera

When Diego Rivera came to New York from Mexico City in 1931 to paint murals for the Museum of Modern Art, The New Yorker wrote that he liked “the Ghetto, the Savoy dance hall in Harlem, Little Italy, the Pennsylvania and Grand Central stations, and American plumbing.” 

He worked late into the night in a makeshift studio with no heat (heat would have made the paint dry too quickly) in an empty gallery at the museum. There he produced five “portable murals,” large blocks of free-standing frescoed plaster, concrete and steel that depict events in Mexican history. After the exhibition opened, Rivera created three more murals, each capturing scenes of Depression-era New York.

MoMA was a young institution in 1931; Rivera was only the second artist to have a retrospective there (Matisse was the first), and his show broke all attendance records. Over the years the murals have scattered. Some are in private and public Mexican collections; two are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one at Smith College Museum of Art and another at MoMA. One is missing. One mural, called “Frozen Assets,” was in three tiers: the top shows a skyline of skyscrapers; the middle tier shows the Municipal Pier on East 25th Street, where the unemployed were sheltered; the bottom depicts a bank vault with wealthy citizens counting their assets. 

About John Dewey

John Dewey was an academic philosopher and proponent of educational reform. He started an experimental elementary school in 1894 and in 1919 he cofounded The New School for Social Research in New York. The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials was established in 1937 by Trotsky supporters in the hopes of telling the truth about Joseph Stalin's purge trials. Although Dewey was not a supporter of Trotsky and he was in poor health, he agreed to be the Chairman of the commission and spent 8 days in Coyoacán at the hearings. Despite his disagreements with Trotsky, Dewey concluded that he was innocent of the charges against him at the Moscow Trials.

About Roberta Satow

Tateh must have noticed Lilly’s drooped shoulders. He put his arms around her, kissed the top of her forehead and said, ‘You have to be careful not to let ideas become more important than people.’
— Page 17, Two Sisters of Coyoacán

This is one of the central themes in Two Sisters of Coyoacán. 

Roberta Satow first experienced the danger of letting ideas become more important than people when she was a child and observed her father being humiliated by her mother’s relatives because they supported Adlai Stevenson for President and he voted for Eisenhower.

She experienced it again in college, when her roommate fell in love with the leader of the Young Socialist League, adopted his Trotskyist ideas, and stopped talking to her because she did not share her new ideology. In both cases, ideas became more important than people.

Read more from Roberta at her blog: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-after-50/