Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I like this cover even though this is not the version I read. 
Why two such different covers?
I worship at the feet of Ms. Kingsolver's immense writing skills.  I've been a fan since I happened upon The Bean Trees way back in college.  Her books have an earthiness to them and thus highly appealing to me.  I've read and enjoyed  most everything she's written.  The Lacuna scared me at first because of its size...507 pages and also I'd heard many negative reports from friends both in person and in the blogging world.  Many readers looked forward to The Lacuna's publication date, reserved new copies at the library or ordered them and then abandoned the book half way through.  I was crushed but knew eventually I would pick it up myself.  Luckily a dear friend from my Good Spirits Book Club finished it, praised it and handed it to me to read.  While I can understand why some gave up...I loved it and was once again impressed with Kingsolver's amazing talent.

GoodReads Synopsis:

     In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

     Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.
     Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, 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.
     With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.

My thoughts:

I was amazed by the amount of research it must have taken for Kingsolver to create this truly multi-layered work.  Harrison Shepherd drew me into his story, told mostly through journal entries and letters.  His mother, both despicable and human, raises Harrison without any sense of home, always striving for a new and better boyfriend/husband/meal ticket/companion.  She never finds fullfillment in her own life but somehow through her twisted, topsy-turvy life Harrison is satisfied with the simple side of his life.

He  finds solace in writing, keeping a journal of sorts, and allowing life to lead him to work.   I so enjoyed meeting Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky within the first half of  Harrison's Mexico story.  I had an inkling of Trotsky's relationship to Kahlo and Rivera but this book made me want to know more.  I want to go back and watch the 2002 movie, Frida starring Salma Hayek and I'm interested in  Trotsky's ideas. I wonder if there is other historical fiction that includes Leon Trotsky's early life in Russia.

The second half of the book takes place in Asheville where Violet Brown picks up Harrison's thread as she works as his Girl Friday.  Her character brings a new form of friendship to Harrison's life as she takes care of him like a mother or a sister would, appreciating all of Harrison's quirkiness.    I loved the depth of this book and enjoyed discussing varying elements with my husband.  If you haven't given this book a try please has,  for me, put Kingsolver's work on another literary level. 

Check out Barbara Kingsolver's website
Find it at an IndieBound bookstore near you...The Lacuna

Other bits about The Lacuna:

The Blue Bookcase
Molly's Cafe Books
and Amy at Totally Uninspired


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I MUST pick up this one soon. I was so impressed with Poisonwood Bible, which I read in 2010. Great review, and happy u enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

This is going to the top of my list. When I was student teaching, the first book I taught my students was "The Bean Trees". Love me some Kingsolver :-)

Elaine said...

I have read many of Barbara Kingsolver's books and Lacuna wasn't one of my favorites. I liked it, mostly because I am interested in Kahlo and Rivera, but there were parts I had a hard time staying engaged in. Although I also admire her researching skills. My favorite of hers is the Poisonwood Bible - loved that book! (The movie Frida is very good...) When my daughter was going to college in Michigan we went to the Detroit Art Museum and the whole front entrance area is filled with huge murals painted on the wall by Rivera. Very interesting.

Heather said...

I am one who was not impressed by this book. It came highly rated but it fizzled for me, or rather it never really got started. I did review it and will add a link to your review. I am glad you enjoyed it as I really did want to, but it just was too confusing for me for more than half the book.

Mel said...

Thanks for this post. I have not read anything by Kingsolver but as I type this I am in the process of downloading Prodigal Summer audiobook narrated by Kingsolver herself. I chose Prodigal Summer over Lacuna because the plot appealed to me more. I can recommend film Frida with Salma Hayak. A very memorable film.

Shelley said...

I also love Kingsolver's writing. I've heard mixed reviews about this one. It's good to hear a positive one. I think I will like it.

Jenners said...

You're so right ... I've heard all kinds of negative reviews about this book. I'm not a big Kingsolver fan. I read one or two but she just didn't do it for me. I'm glad you read it and liked it.

And that is a neat cover!

Amy said...

Thank you for commenting on my blog post :).

I loved The Lacuna when I read it over the summer. I went to it when it had a lot of hype around it and I think it really delievered the goods. I was really moved by the story & characters. I loved all the historical events as well. It has placed the Poisonwood Bible high on my 'to-read' list!