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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

From the Mexico City of Frida Kahlo to the America of J. Edgar Hoover, The Lacuna tells the poignant story of a man pulled between two nations.

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

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  • Overall

Fabulous!

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Should have a re-do with a real narrator

Barbara Kingsolver is a wonderful author and an abysmal narrator. I would like to hear the book performed by a real narrator.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

I Was Glad When It Ended

The first 2/3 of Lacuna was boring and narration horrid. I kept at it, and wanted to see if it got better. Last 1/3 was better everything - story, writing, understanding and feeling. Read it next time

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

An important book

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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Larger than a novel

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes with suggestions. Do you enjoy Barbara Kingsolver as a performer as in Flight Behavior? Do you have the time to pursue the huge landscape of a work at least twice as demanding, like a course? The Lacuna is working best for me in audible plus multimedia supplements such as the PBS video "The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo" and an art history-biography of Frida Kahlo such as Frida Kahlo: The Paintings by Hayden Herrera. Then you can look at images of the paintings and photos of the historical characters while you read. I am fully enjoying this total experience. It could also work if you are able to visualize well. I would recommend The Lacuna to someone who has a large chunk of time and the desire to be immersed in a new world.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The narrator is wonderful--the portrait of an artist as a young boy through manhood. He is also a fragile soul. We see how one artist (in this case Frida Kahlo) can influence another. fledgling artist (in the PBS biography, you will hear testimony from visual artists who were Frida Kahlo's students). You see the world through the eyes of a young potential writer from the beginning. You may need to listen to the opening of the novel multiple times to get into his head.

Which character – as performed by Barbara Kingsolver – was your favorite?

Barbara Kingsolver does a great job with all the characters.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

This would work better as a series rather than a single film. Individual titles for the individual sections could be labeled as Kingsolver did with dates and location. The Lacuna is an excellent succinct title and a recurring theme. It's meant to have multiple meanings that the reader discovers.

Any additional comments?

You will learn so much from this historical novel--from the process of preparing plaster for the murals of Diego Rivera to the history of Mexico and the Russian Revolution. You will view the twentieth century from completely different perspectives. At least I did. This is a great work.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Hire a professional to read!!

This was a beautifully crafted book that I enjoyed immensely when I wasn't annoyed at the sing-sing quality of the reader's voice. At times it was like nails on a chalkboard and if I hadn't been so thoroughly enthralled by the words, I surely would have turned it off and walked away. Barbara Kingsolver is a gifted writer and she has certainly earned the right to read and savor her own words but, please Ms. Kingsolver, for the sake of your dedicated readers, PLEASE hire a professional to read your next audiobook.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story
  • KP
  • Oakland, CA
  • 03-17-15

All About the Ending....

With this book, it’s all about the ending. It was truly magical – the ending, that is. However, that was only the last 30 minutes of so of reading or listening. Getting to this place was overly tedious. The writing was wonderful, and that, along with the ending, pulled the book up from the tedium. The sections with Kahlo, Rivera, and Trotsky were fascinating as character studies of these people, but … the plot! The plot seemed to be missing or at best rambling throughout this overly long book.

I felt like much of the book was meant to be a history lesson, with Kingsolver’s political slant to it. Much of that was interesting, but it didn’t help the plot much! I learned a lot… about the Bonus Army, Mexico, Trotsky, the McCarthy era, etc.

The ending, though. I can’t stop thinking about the ending! I liked that Violet Brown was the 1st person narrator of the final section. Because it is Violet speaking, we can’t know the complete truth about Harrison at the end. This perspective added to the magical quality of what happens, so it was a great decision on Kingsolver’s to use Violet to narrate here. When Violet gets the note from Frieda Kahlo, the mystery is solved to a certain point, and it is heart-warming. The reader is left yearning to know more about the note and all it implies, so the book goes out on a high note of interest and mystery.




1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • DB
  • 01-27-15

Should have heeded the warnings about the narrator

The story of The Lacuna is strong - spanning eras of twentieth century history that are fascinating, it tells the story of an American boy from his early teens to early 30s. The characters were also really well written as with other Kingsolver books.., the problem as other commenters have mentioned is the narration. So maddeningly slow, plodding and emphasising points as an author not narrator. Listening became more of a chore than a pleasure, which is a shame as I suspect I would have enjoyed the print version much more.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Excellent book should have a professional narrator

This may have replaced Poisonwood Bible as my favorite Kingsolver. However, Barbara did her own book a disservice by narrating this novel which has a male protagonist. I think she substituted hope for judgment. With any luck the book will be so successful that there will be another audio version one day to do justice to this fine novel. It is inventive, engaging, and richly satisfying historical fiction.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Narration by Kingsolver ruins book!

Any additional comments?

It's a complex story in the first place. I am so disappointed that I purchased this as an audiobook -- doesn't an author of her stature know better than to make such a rookie mistake? This calls to mind the definition of "professional." Perhaps she doesn't listen to audiobooks with the understanding that a good narrator can make or break a story with their voices, intonations and emphasis. To add insult to injury, I think she may lisp slightly as well. Painful to listen to, no matter how well written.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful