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
I'd really like my money back. I usually adore Barbara Kingsolver but I can't make my way through this book. I started this book over 5 times because Ms. Kingsolver insists on over-pronouncing each consanent and separating each word from the next so distinctly that it's ponderous. It's as if she's reading to 4th graders. She also emphasizes words that are unimportant and that is confusing.
Kingsolver usually chooses topics that are important and makes them intensely interesting by drawing you into the characters but somehow this book comes across as if she was personally interested in this historical era and wanted to preach to us about it to us for another agenda. I've given up. Perhaps if a skilled performer had read it, I would have been involved enough to followed it through.
I would give this book more than 5 stars if I could. I loved every minute of it. This is one of those experiences where I couldn't wait to get back to listening to see what would happen next, yet wanted to savor the story and the language, and not have it end. Kingsolver does a surprisingly good job reading (surprising because she is a writer, after all, not as far as I know a narrator, and also because there are a LOT of very different characters in this book). Far and away the best part of her narration is the voice she gives to Violet Brown. Don't miss this!
Barbara Kingsolver has written an amazingly beautiful book which is thought provoking through out it's rich account of the main characters life. The main character retains an innocence and goodness despite the many ups and downs in his life. The author has also managed to convey important 20th century history with out a history lesson but as a backdrop to the main characters life and interweaves that history seamlessly. Bravo!
The book is an interesting insight into the murder of Lev Trotsky in Mexico, the use of troops against the WWI veterans in Washington, and the Anti-Communist mania in the U.S. following WWII. The book is a little slow in the middle sections, after the main character returns to the U.S. from Mexico, but the characters and the settings are interesting and the ending is quite good. Not quite as special as the author's best known book, "The Poisonwood Bible."
Barbara Kingsolver reads this herself - Beautiful language. The book is hard to get into, so I put it down for a bit. Then returned a month later. That would never have happened with previous Kingsolver novels. I found the writer's technique of a book as a series of journal entries and letters off-putting, hard to follow and disjointed. I finally 'got into it' the last third of the book. The part I found least interesting (the time spent with Freida Kahlo) ended up being central to the end of the book. Worth persevering to the end, but not worth more than 3 stars.
I usually really like Kingsolver's books and was starting to wonder where this story was headed. Finally it picked up and was worth pushing through the first half.
The story had a difficult beginning. The narration by the author was not an asset. But I have listened to most of the story 3 times and have enjoyed it more with each listen.
Splendid! I have been as captivated by this audiobook as I have ever been by any of Kingslover's work in book form. Her attention to detail, her spiritual and political messages and her beautiful poetic writing come together in "The Lacuna" to create a work of wonder!
I've read other Kingsolver works and have always admired her style and attention to detail but I will NEVER purchase an audiobook with her vocal depiction. She is dry, grating and turns what would otherwise be a fine piece of fiction into a boring punishment. I can't imagine why any professional would choose her, especially when there are so many talented actor/voice over candidates out there, unless it was a completely self-indulgent decision on her part. Hopefully she will bask in her literary success and leave the audio to the actors!
A part of our history that very much needs remembering as the press and now cable and the internet pass along their missunderstandings. The story line was well done and it was very difficult to lose interest.
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