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
Although I admire Kingsolver for her courage in reading her own book, this most excellent story could certainly have benefited from a professional reader.
I love reading Barbara Kingsolver and think she is an exceptional talent and an interesting person. That said, I will probably resort to reading her in print. While she has a lovely voice, I find her over-enunciation and too-careful diction to be distracting, verging on annoying. I feel as though I'm listening to a first grade teacher reading Dick and Jane stories to me. I'll wade through the Lacuna, but this would be a much better listen with a narrator who could do Mexican accents and "perform" this novel. Sorry, Barbara.
"The Lacuna" is a wonderful book.
A sensitive, powerful, interesting story,
With themes of important matters of human civilization and history, it never is idealized or didactic.
Despite these large issues the book like the main character Harrison Shepherd always modestly comes back to the life of one person.
The author's skill and judgement and intelligence are daunting.
Most of all it is superb entertainment with the luxury of being performed by the author as audiobook.
This is a wonderful novel, poignant and fascinating. Kingsolver's narration ruins her story. Don't bother with this one....her voice and inflection drove me crazy. Kingsolver's arrogance rings through the novel and destroys it's sweetness.
I bought the recording based on having read "Poisonwood Bible", which was awesome. I didn't even hesitate to use a credit for this book. However, I've listened to the first hour twice over the past week, and I have no idea where this story is heading, or even what it is about. I didn't look to see who narrated the book before buying it. I just checked into audible to see that the narrator is Babara. She should stick to writing and let someone else do the reading of the book. Her narrative is too monotone for me and I'm having a really hard time understanding which character is talking. I don't know if I can continue listening...
I listened every spare moment (and some not so spare) to this compelling love story about a kind man and his devoted stenographer living through relatively recent history from Trotsky to McCarthy. 50 years ago, but such a different time.
At first, I wished for another reader than the author herself, it worked better in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"
But Kingsolver drew me in with her gentle narrative and subtle characterizations.
A wonderful listen. Made this grown man cry (and laugh and think.)
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors; however, her decision to read The Lacuna herself was not a good one. This is the first of hundreds of audiobooks purchased that I have been unable to enjoy because of the reader.
Doing good accents is not enough to be a narrator. I am really liking the story, but I was compelled to write this review even though I am only 1/4 into it. The narration is so painful I'm not sure if I can go much longer. Why oh why oh why doesn't such a great writer as Kingsolver let a great professional voice artist read this book? She did enough in researching and writing this book, give it over to a pro to read it, PLEASE!! Last time I get a book before reading the reviews. Ugh.
I'll see ya in the smoke.
Barbara Kingsolver is a fine writer, I read and listened to "the poisonwood bible" and enjoyed the book both times. I'd like to read, and enjoy it again sometime. However, this novel was boring, no, I mean I was bored by this novel. I couldn't possibly criticise the author since she is a successful writer, and I am not.
In this case perhaps the authors political emotions determined much more of the story than the plot she created. By the time I stopped listening (I could not finish the book), the main character seemed a two dimensional mouse of a man, and most of the other characters were incomplete caricatures of people. Perhaps it was the style of the book, perhaps it might have been Kingsolvers narration to some degree, but I gave up on it before I could finish the last of the third download. Probably my failure was the result of a character fault of my own.
A slow start as you learn the characters, but this is how Kingsolver draws you into identifying so fully with them. This is a great book that finally captures the awful human tragedy that was the result of the Communism scare in the USA after the war. The book is not about the politics, but about one person's admittedly extraordinary life and how it is ultimately affected. I loved Kingsolver's reading performance as well.
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