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The Lacuna: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – July 20, 2010
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“Rich…impassioned…engrossing…Politics and art dominate the novel, and their overt, unapologetic connection is refreshing.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Masterful…a reader receives the great gift of entering not one but several worlds…The final pages haunt me still.” (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review)
“Compelling…Kingsolver’s descriptions of life in Mexico City burst with sensory detail—thick sweet breads, vividly painted walls, the lovely white feet of an unattainable love.” (The New Yorker)
“A work that is often close to magic.... Much research underlies this complex weaving...but the work is lofted by lyric prose.” (Denver Post)
“Shepherd’s story in Kingsolver’s accomplished literary hands is so seductive, the prose so elegant, the architecture of the novel so imaginative, it becomes hard to peel away from the book” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
“[Kingsolver’s] playful pastiche brings to vivid life the culture wars of an earlier era...” (Vogue)
“...True and riveting...Barbara Kingsolver has invented a wondrous filling here, sweeter and thicker than pan dulce, spicy as the hottest Mexican chiles, paranoid as the American government hunting Communists ” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“A sweeping mural of sensory delights and stimulating ideas about art, government, identity and history…Readers will feel the sting of connection between then and now.” (Seattle Times)
“A sweeping narrative of utopian dreams and political reality…A stirring novel…intimate and pitch-perfect.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)
“Kingsolver deftly combines real history and the life of the fictional protagonist…A sweeping tale.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
From the Back Cover
In this powerfully imagined, provocative novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is the poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as well as an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself.
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@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
When years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible, I was flummoxed by its power and beauty. It was clear to me that Barbara Kingsolver possessed a fierce talent not just as a storyteller but also as a wordsmith and a reporter. Her vivid prose brought into high relief the tragic reality of life in the 1960s in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. Much later I read (and reviewed) Kingsolver’s recent novel, Flight Behavior, a meditation on the impact of climate change that underlies a tale of life and love in the author’s native Appalachia. Though less compelling than Poisonwood, Flight Behavior was brilliant in its own way.
All of which is why I was so taken aback when I had difficulty getting into The Lacuna, Kingsolver’s intensely political historical novel of the Mexican Revolution, the Depression in the US, and the anti-Communist frenzy following World War II. On my first try, I set the book aside, finding its open chapters confusing. Then I tried again, no doubt in a more receptive mood, and I fell in love with the work. I found I simply couldn’t resist the insight Kingsolver brings to her work. Here, for example, is a snippet of dialogue from the mouth of a minor character in the novel, commenting on the Red Scare:
“You force people to stop asking questions, and before you know it they have auctioned off the question mark, or sold it for scrap. No boldness. No good ideas for fixing what’s broken in the land. Because if you happen to mention it’s broken, you are automatically disqualified.”
By the way, how is that so different from the Know-Nothing attitudes holding sway today in the United States Congress?
The protagonist of The Lacuna is Harrison Shepherd, a writer of best-selling historical romance novels set in the empires of the Aztecs and the Maya. Born shortly after World War I, son of a minor American federal official and a desperate Mexican woman who sees him as a mealticket, Shepherd crosses borders to become a first-hand witness to the Bonus Army march and encampment in Washington under Herbert Hoover, the rise to fame of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the assassination of Leon Trotsky, and the slow, painful unfolding of the Red Scare that seized hold of the United States in the early years of the Cold War.
The Lacuna is crammed with unforgettable portraits of historic figures. Chief among them are Diego Rivera and his on-again, off-again wife, Frida Kahlo, who fairly leap off the page with the passion that drove them to artistic heights. The dialogue between Kahlo and the protagonist, Harrison Shepherd, is among the most lively and engaging I’ve ever read anywhere (yes, even including Elmore Leonard). Kingsolver’s equally brilliant rendering of the artists’ houseguest, “Leon” (Lev Davidovich) Trotsky, is alone worth the price of this extraordinary book.
Better than anything else I’ve ever read, The Lacuna depicts the desperation of the Depression years, the topsy-turvy uncertainties of the Mexican Revolution, and the insanity of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the late 1940s and 50s. That’s a lot to cram between the covers of a single novel.
Barbara Kingsolver expresses interesting cross-cultural perspectives through the many casual conversations between Harry and his mother and the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, in whose home Harry finds work. His relationship with Frida is especially touching. Harry also works briefly for the Russian exile Leon Trotsky, who found shelter in the home of Kahlo and Rivera before being killed by Stalinist agents in 1940. Back in the US, Shepherd eventually becomes a bestselling author of historical novels about Mexico, but his promising career is compromised when Communist witch hunters learn of his past acquaintance with Trotsky.
I enjoyed this ambitious piece of historical fiction. My only reservation is that Harrison, although he’s the protagonist of the book, is outshined by the more bold and fascinating characters he interacts with. He’s an admirable and sensitive young man but he comes off as very passive. As the drama of his own life comes to a climax in the last quarter of the book, I felt sort of disengaged from him and wasn’t that affected by what happens to him. With that reservation, I think there’s still enough humor and drama and historical commentary in this book to recommend it.