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 try to avoid listening to books narrated by their authors; but in this instance, I was so anxious to listen to Kingsolver's latest book I didn't even look to see who narrated it. After listening to over 100 books without writing a review, I felt compelled to vent my frustration with the amateurish reading of this book. In the future the author should leave narrating to professional narrators.
This is a memorable tale surrounding the real events in the world that led to the witch hunts of the McCarthy investigations. It is reminder of what happens when governments use fear to strip citizens of their privacy and their constitutional rights.
Barbara Kingsolver's reading adds to the book. In my opinion, if you like her writing, you'll like her reading.
I'm a big fan of Kingsolver's writing, and this book does not disappoint. I also think she is a great narrator. In this one she does a great job with the accents - Southern, Mexican, and Russian.
Tell us about yourself!
I like everything this author writes and I enjoyed her reading as well. Loved the US history inclusion, especially because I experienced a lot of it first hand, The use of Mexican adages ( so old the earth was still warm) and the charming Appalachian accent of the secretary added to the overall depth of this highly enjoyable novel.
Why oh why do writers feel they need to narrate their own books? It might have been better with another narrator. MIGHT. Ok, I love this author but I could not make it past more than 3 hours of listening to this book. It was just too detailed for my liking. Maybe it picked up later on, but with a book this long, I just didn't want to plod through much more.
I love Barbara Kingsolver's writing. She can really turn a phrase and paints beautiful pictures with her words but she reads this book as if reading a picture book to a child. The story is fantastic if you can get past the narration. I wish I had bought it in hardcover.
This gentle narrative of a good woman who witnesses, first hand,the Kafkaesque period in our history , the Mccarthy Era, and conveys its dangerous absurdity through her story of Harrison Shepherd, I assume, a fictional author of modest note, is read with a dreamlike voice by the author, Barbara Kingsolver. The frightening reality that unique thought is often met with a lack of understanding......and when people don't understand, they rarely react with innocent inquiry...but rather with ignorance....and that igonance is the fertile bed for hate and is vulnerable to manipulation.....was the essence of this era. Harrison Shepherd "chose" to write historical fiction so that he captured the absurdity of his times in a framework that would not be branded as dangerous.....ironically? this is what Ms. kingsolver may be doing providing us with an allegory of our own times.
Gracie the PB Native
Having read all but one of her books, I was eager to read this one. Somehow, I have struggled through..hoping that "something would happen".
Certainly beautifully written, but for me--disappointing.
Maybe next time.
I loved this book. I think Kingsolver may be the most gifted writer of our time, and I was enchanted to hear her reading this wonderful new novel herself. Her gift for protraying different voices, most evident in Poisonwood Bible, is evident here, and carries through into her terrific speaking for this panoply of characters. I find Ms Kingsolver to be every bit as much a force of nature as the wonderful Frida Kahlo she portrays so richly in this beautiful new book.
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