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The Lacuna: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 3, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 876 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Kingsolver's ambitious new novel, her first in nine years (after the The Poisonwood Bible), focuses on Harrison William Shepherd, the product of a divorced American father and a Mexican mother. After getting kicked out of his American military academy, Harrison spends his formative years in Mexico in the 1930s in the household of Diego Rivera; his wife, Frida Kahlo; and their houseguest, Leon Trotsky, who is hiding from Soviet assassins. After Trotsky is assassinated, Harrison returns to the U.S., settling down in Asheville, N.C., where he becomes an author of historical potboilers (e.g., Vassals of Majesty) and is later investigated as a possible subversive. Narrated in the form of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings, the novel takes a while to get going, but once it does, it achieves a rare dramatic power that reaches its emotional peak when Harrison wittily and eloquently defends himself before the House Un-American Activities Committee (on the panel is a young Dick Nixon). Employed by the American imagination, is how one character describes Harrison, a term that could apply equally to Kingsolver as she masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist. (Nov.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

The Lacuna contains two very distinct parts. One features a vibrant Mexican landscape with the equally colorful personalities of Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky. The other centers more on Harrison's reclusive existence in small-town America and his battle with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Despite the prodigious research that both parts exhibit, critics clearly preferred the former, marveling at Kingsolver's lyrical passages and her expert recreation of 1930s Mexico. A few reviewers also noted instances of sermonizing and inaccurate history. However, the novel's compelling, engrossing story certainly outweighed these minor complaints, and in the end, Kingsolver has created a convincing "tableau vivant of epochs and people that time has transformed almost past recognition" (New York Times Book Review).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060852577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060852573
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (876 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mrs. Baumann VINE VOICE on October 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Plot Summary: In a story told entirely through diary entries and letters, we meet Harrison William Shepherd, a half-Mexican, half-American boy who grows up with his mother in Mexico. He has no education, but his love of reading and writing nurtures his own inner dialog that leads to his success as a writer. But that's getting ahead of the story. First he passes his adolescence working for some of Mexico's most infamous residents in the 1930s - Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Lev Trotsky. His break with Mexico is abrupt, and Shepherd moves to America where he embarks on a writing career with the assistance of his invaluable stenographer, Mrs. Violet Brown.

I've spent the past two days in close communion with this novel, and it has moved me deeply. It's not often that I abandon popular literature for the big fish, but Barbara Kingsolver is one of the few authors whose writing entertains me in all forms - novels, essays and non-fiction. I suppose I'm like a book groupie, following her whether she's spinning yarns in the Southwest, or matter of factly walking me through slaughter day when her chicken's days are numbered. Make no mistake, her latest effort is Literature with a capital L, and the story is so poignant it could make a stone weep in sympathy. And weep I did. Frequently.

When a novel covers a person's life, from the beginning to the end, it takes on an epic flavor by default. Harrison Shepherd's life could be considered epic even if it was condensed down to a three paragraph obituary. It's an extraordinary tale told during haunting times in both Mexico and the U.S. I regret that I don't know as much as I should about the history before, during, and after World War II, but I will use this novel as a crutch for my shoddy memory.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Barbara Kingsolver has written a book of historical fiction that reads like a Frida Kahlo painting: allegory, poetry, beauty & pain. Kingsolver writes likes a great artist paints.

The story opens in 1929 and ends in 1951. Harrison William Shepherd (a fictional character) born in the US to a US father and a Mexican mother, is a child in Mexico. Since his parents are both disinterested in parenting, he makes his own way in life. First he is a cook/secretary in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, then for Bolshevik/Marxist Revolutionary Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico. After Trotsky is assassinated, Shepherd is encouraged by Kahlo to move to the US where he finally becomes what he was meant to be; an author of historical fiction.

The backbone of the story is the Communist/Worker's Movement in Mexico & the US and Rivera, Kahlo & Trotsky's part in it. They provide the political dialogue for the relationship of US politics and art. Kingsolver imagines what it would have been like living in these households during this turbulent period. The story culminates with Shepherd being called before the US Committee on Un-American Activities. But the story is about so much more than politics and history.

If you are an admirer of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, reading this book will be like contemplating their art. The story mirrors the politics and history portrayed in Rivera's murals and the pain and beauty of Kahlo's paintings.

If you enjoy reading historical fiction, this is a beautifully written example.

Update: 6/10/10 Barbara Kingsolver was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction for "The Lacuna". The Orange prize was started in 1996 to recognize female fiction writers around the world.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is quite possible that "The Lacuna", Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel, surpasses her masterpiece "The Poisonwood Bible" and that is no small feat. Or perhaps surpass isn't the correct word for an author of Kingsolver's talent who can make the unlikeliest of stories and characters come to life. "The Lacuna" manages to weave together some of the early twentieth century's most pivotal events without demeaning them, offering fresh insight into some of the darkest moments of American history through the eyes of a genuine and likeable misfit.

"The Lacuna" is the memoir-of-sorts of Harrison Wiliam Shepherd, an author caught between two very different worlds. As a young boy, his Mexican mother drags him back to her native country as she pursues any wealthy man who is willing to take her on as a mistress. Years later, he is sent to live with his father, a man he does not even know, before returning to Mexico where he finds himself in the employ of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. His association with these two famous artists brings him in contact with Trotsky, on exile from Stalinist Russia, who continues Shepherd's odd education in the school of life experiences. When events turn sour in Mexico, Shepherd returns to the United States, fulfilling his dream of becoming a beloved author, only to have to confront his past and the words he has never said during the Red Scare of the 1950s. His story is told in his own words, his diary entries and letters, some too private to lay bare, and by the words of his secretary who takes it upon herself to compile his life's narrative.

The sheer amount of history that Kingsolver is able to plausibly mix into Shepherd's story is incredible, and all of it believable.
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