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The Lacuna by B. Kingsolver

The Lacuna (edition 2009)

by B. Kingsolver

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,363None1,612 (3.88)1 / 521
Title:The Lacuna
Authors:B. Kingsolver
Info:Harper Collins (2009), Edition: First Edition, Perfect Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Mexico, Diego Rivera, fresco painting, Frida Kahlo, World War II, Communism, Leon Trotsky, history, Aztecs, art, Bonus Army, McCarthyism, Asheville, Mexico City

Work details

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

1930s (21) 2010 (38) 20th century (25) American (39) American literature (19) art (43) communism (103) Diego Rivera (92) fiction (476) Frida Kahlo (136) historical (19) historical fiction (165) history (27) Kindle (31) Kingsolver (21) literature (23) McCarthyism (48) Mexico (278) North Carolina (29) novel (67) Orange Prize (54) own (19) politics (23) read (27) read in 2010 (25) to-read (85) Trotsky (109) unread (26) USA (35) WWII (35)
  1. 80
    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (GreenVelvet)
  2. 71
    The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver (readerbabe1984)
  3. 40
    Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: It is set in Mexico and deals, obliquely and amusingly, with women's rights.
  4. 10
    Any Human Heart by William Boyd (lizchris)
    lizchris: A fictional character who encounters real people from history across their lifetime.
  5. 11
    Sonntagsträumerei in der Alameda by Bodo Uhse (edwinbcn)

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English (193)  French (1)  All languages (194)
Showing 1-5 of 193 (next | show all)
I had to get through one book by Kingsolver before I died. I know she's a modern literary icon.

I just don't think I can name an author who is a better writer that I enjoy less.

She's talented, to be sure; and this book, at least, was creative and colorful. Her books simply don't grab me. It took me almost three weeks to read this, and I wasn't on a bender or anything. It was just slow going.

I might recommend this to people smarter than me. ( )
  dysmonia | Apr 15, 2014 |
LOVED this book. I finished it months ago and snippets keep popping into my head. ( )
  lizbrissettmartin | Feb 28, 2014 |
This is, I think, the only Kingsolver novel I’ve ever read (can’t remember whether or not I’ve read The Bean Trees) tho I’ve read both her essay collections (Small Wonder, and High Tide in Tucson) and one of her non-fiction works (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral) and it’s likely to stay that way.

I will say right up-front that I enjoyed reading The Lacuna because Kingsolver is an excellent writer, but as much as I enjoyed her technical skills I found her storytelling . . . annoying. It’s hard to pin down why, exactly; there just seemed something forced and false about it, esp the dialog.

Briefly, the story is about the life of a man named Harrison Shepherd from his tumultuous childhood in Mexico with his unstable mother to his work as a servant of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to his return to the U.S. (where he’d been born and his father was a citizen) where he becomes a popular author and the eventual upending of his life by the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee. That past history with the communist Riveras, don’t you know. There’s some interesting stuff near the end of the book about the misinformation distributed by the media in their efforts to churn up stories, without fact checking or any real concern for reporting the truth as opposed to just spreading malicious gossip, but little else that makes any kind of real point. The story just sort of meanders around and around, occasionally waxing philosophical.

There was this sentence I really liked, taken from Shepherd’s reminiscences about Leon Trotsky, who hid out for awhile in Mexico with the help of the Riveras: “Memories do not always soften with time; some grow edges like knives.” Definitely been my experience of memories.

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not, tho I definitely recommend all her non-fiction work. If you’ve already read and liked one of her novels (and many do), go for it with this one, otherwise I think it’s a bit of a crap shoot. ( )
  BooksCatsEtc | Feb 19, 2014 |
This is one of the most enjoyable novels I have read in a long time. At first I wasn't quite sure of it, because it is written as if it has been assembled from detailed diaries, with some details filled in by letters and newspaper clippings. At times the diaries' editor intrudes to explain gaps in the text or other aberrations, but as the story develops, this becomes more easily understood, and by the end it has coalesced in such a way as to make perfect sense. Unlike many novels that use these devices, the frame of the story serves it well and contributes significantly to the novel's ability to sustain the notes it strikes. I finished the book more than a week ago, but it still lingers with me, and that is a rare virtue.

Many other reviewers will summarize the plot. Truthfully, I prefer to know only as much as is needed to propel me toward a book and no more, because the delight in any story comes in large measure from its surprises. I thought I had a handle on the basic pieces of this book before I started it, but luckily my imagination is less robust than is Barbara Kingsolver's. So instead of a plot summary, I provide a list of topics that help to make up some of the book's texture, and you can decide if that sounds intriguing or not: the 1930s through the 1950s, Mexico, cooking, Diego Rivera's murals, Frida Kahlo, oppressive governments, art, literature, American society during and after World War II, small-town life, the publication of popular fiction, the right of the individual, Leon Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, character assassination, ancient cultures of South America.

There are many other items I could mention, but that would be enough to intrigue me. What I thought I knew about the book was that it had many Big Personalities and Big Events in it, but what I ended up loving about it was that these things were at more of a remove from the narrator than I at first expected. It is not a historical novel in the sense that it's about larger-than-life personalities and the fates that drive them. Those people do show up, but the main character, who might at times have claim to being larger-than-life divulges his observations, his thoughts, and his insecurities. He is rarely driven toward dramatic action, just as most of the world's population is not, but he has strong powers of observation. Part of his great charm is how well he bears witness to what he sees. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
Unfortunately I did not enjoy The Lacuna nearly as much as some of Barbara Kingsolver's other novels. It took me over a month to read it, which is much longer than typical for me (even for a book of this length). For the first half or so, I just wasn't really into it. I didn't feel any strong desire to pick it up and keep reading. In the second half, I became more engaged but it was still somewhat slow reading.

The novel tells the story of a man born in the early 1900s in the United States of Mexican and American parentage, who spends much of his youth in Mexican and eventually becomes employed by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and later by Leon Trotsky. Eventually he moves back to the US and becomes a writer, and the end of the novel takes place during the McCarthy era. The story is told in the form of the protagonist's personal journals and letters. At the beginning when he is young, the journals are all in a distant and third person voice, and I think this was part of why I didn't feel that engaged at the beginning. It didn't draw me in because it was so detached. Later when he is older his journals are more personal and it was easier to feel involved with the characters.

Even though I did not find it the most engaging book ever, I can appreciate that it is impeccably written. Kingsolver is a clear master of words and plot. She writes in a variety of convincing styles and tones and the plot is well-constructed and has an excellent, poignant ending that it sad but not unbearably so. I enjoyed her use of language and humor, and did find myself laughing aloud many times as I read.

This is a novel with a grand scope, much more along the lines of The Poisonwood Bible than Prodigal Summer, and I think it may be the case that I simply like her smaller-scoped works better. I am still glad I read it, and overall I do recommend it if it sounds at all interesting to you. ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 193 (next | show all)
Kingsolver, at the top of her craft, builds pyramids of language and scenic highways through mountains of facts, while plotting a mostly tight course through the fictional premises that convey her writing’s social conscience. In this book, pacifism, social justice, and free expression are the standards she shoulders.
added by Shortride | editBookforum, Celia McGee (Dec 1, 2009)
“The Lacuna” can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people; or for its harmonious choir of voices. But the fuller value of Kingsolver’s novel lies in its call to conscience and connection.
Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, "The Lacuna," is the most mature and ambitious one she's written during her celebrated 20-year career, but it's also her most demanding. Spanning three decades, the story comes to us as a collection of diary entries and memoir, punctuated by archivist's notes, newspaper articles, letters, book reviews and congressional transcripts involving some of the 20th century's most radical figures. The sweetness that leavened "The Bean Trees" and "Animal Dreams" has been burned away, and the lurid melodrama that enlivened "The Poisonwood Bible" has been replaced by the cool realism of a narrator who feels permanently alienated from the world.
A serious problem with The Lacuna is telegraphed in its striking title. "Lacuna" refers to a gap or something that's absent. The motif of the crucial missing piece runs throughout the novel, but the thing unintentionally missing here is an engaging main character. Our hero, Harrison Shepherd, is an accidental onlooker to history buffeted by other people's plans and passions.
Narrated in the form of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings, the novel takes a while to get going, but once it does, it achieves a rare dramatic power that reaches its emotional peak when Harrison wittily and eloquently defends himself before the House Un-American Activities Committee (on the panel is a young Dick Nixon). Employed by the American imagination, is how one character describes Harrison, a term that could apply equally to Kingsolver as she masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist.
added by khuggard | editPublishers Weekly
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In the beginning were the howlers.
A novel! Why do you say this won't liberate anyone? Where does any man go to be free, whether he is poor or rich or even in prison? To Dostoyevsky! To Gogol!
The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know.
Does a man become a revolutionary out of the belief he’s entitled to joy rather than submission?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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.
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"The story of Harrison William Shepherd, a man caught between two worlds -- Mexico and the United States in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s -- and whose search for identity takes readers to the heart of the twentieth century's most tumultuous events"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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