Barbara Kingsolver's new novel of Mexico and the Cold War is centered on “accidents of history”: how things turn out, and how easily they could have turned out otherwise. Both Kingsolver and her narrator Harrison Shepherd, who is a writer himself, are interested in history not for the marquee names but for the ordinary people swept up in the momentum of events. The Lacuna is made up of Harrison's notes and correspondence, beginning with his arrival at age 12 to the hacienda of a Mexican oil magnate and continuing through a youth spent as a cook in the employ of a radical painter couple in Mexico City. It's the 1930s, and the couple is, of course, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, soon to be joined in their contentious household by Trotsky and his retinue.
Harrison watches these luminaries from the safety of the kitchen while they work, fight, and try to keep the most famous political exile in the world safe from Stalinist assassins. Kingsolver is an excellent narrator of her own story, differentiating the voices with artful touches that never seem cartoonish. Harrison is quiet and sharp, with a retiring diction nearly drowned out by strident Frida. Lev Trotsky is serious but avuncular, taking the time, despite his heavy intellectual labors, to encourage the literary aspirations of the young cook.
But this tense little world-in-exile can't last. As Frida tells Harrison again and again, the most important thing about a person is the thing you don't know. The Cold War is starting. Spies do a lot of damage, and fear of spies does more. By the time Harrison returns to the United States, an agoraphobic bundle of nerves, McCarthy is rising. No former cook for a Communist can escape the notice of Hoover's FBI. The Lacuna is an examination of history, both what of happened and of how we reconstruct it. Too often, Harrison muses, we take the scraps that come down to us for the whole, “like looking at a skeleton and saying 'how quiet this man was, and how thin.'” Harrison Shepherd, as a writer and obsessive keeper of diaries, does his best to keep flesh on the bones of the past. Kingsolver shows how impossible this undertaking is, and how important it is to try. Rosalie Knecht
Born in the United States, but reared in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers and, one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed muralist Diego Rivera. When he goes to work for Rivera, his wife, exotic artist Kahlo, and exiled leader Lev Trotsky, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution.
Meanwhile, the United States has embraced the internationalist goodwill of World War II. Back in the land of his birth, Shepherd seeks to remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. But political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach - the lacuna - between truth and public presumption.
©2009 Barbara Kingsolver; (P)2009 HarperCollins Publishers
Usually I just love it when the authors narrate their own books. Just to give a couple of examples: Frank McCourt, Joshilyn Jackson, Bill Bryson. After listening to them I thought I wish all authors would narrate their own books.
Then I saw the reviews about this audio book and I thought “they must be exaggerating”. I decided to listen to the sample before I buy it but I didn’t have time then so I put it aside and forgot about it. A couple of weeks later I needed to go out in a hurry and wanted to take an audio book with me. I got a recommendation about this book a couple of days earlier (mind you – the book, not the audio) and I completely forgot about the reviews so I just downloaded it, without listening to the sample.
Boy, did I learn my lesson! Her reading is absolutely HORRIBLE! This book is not defined as kids book so why would she read it as if her audience is five year olds? Come to think of it, even when I was five year old I didn’t like people talking to me in this tone.
What can I tell you; I tried listening to it a few times. I managed to get over an hour or so of it and I can hardly tell what it was about – her reading is so annoying and distracting.
What I don’t understand is how did the production company go on with it? Couldn’t they tell her she might be a good write but she should leave the reading to others? Actually, I see it more as their fault than hers because I guess it’s very hard for a person to judge her own voice.
I’m sorry to be so harsh; I usually try to remember the effort that was put in a work when I review it but in
this case I’m afraid I have nothing good to say. I am still going to read this book; I trust the person who recommended it. But this audio will be a lost credit as I am not going to try and listen to it all the way through.
I doubt if I will ever buy another audio book without first checking the narrator for myself.
Wow, very disappointing. The writing seems simplistic and the reading by the author, with all due respect, is horrible. I lasted half way and had to finally give up hope. Just very disappointing.
Voice talent is to audio books, what location is to real estate. Unfortunately this is a great house, in a bad neighborhood. I am going to have to fall back on the paper back. Sorry, Barbara, but you should leave the reading to the professionals.
So excited to see a new book out by Kingsolver that I didn't look to see the reader. After Animal, Vegetable ... I wouldn't have bought it. A wonderful writer, but others would have brought the book to life rather than letting it languish in an unnatural speaking voice with over-ennuciation. I'll keep trying with the playback speeded up.
I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I have 5 grown children, play ukuele exercise, and read.
This book moves a tad slow, but I am really glad I hung in and finished it. It's a lovely story. I especially loved the time the main character spent with Frida.
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