Monday, May 3, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I was browsing at the library last week, before I broke my ankle, and saw this book. I picked it up because I adore Kingsolver - have ever since I read The Poisonwood Bible way back when (I think that I was in high school).

The Lacuna is Kingsolver's first novel in nine years!!!  I couldn't believe that it had been nine years since her last novel. Kingsolver's main character is Harrison Shepherd, a young man that has a Mexican mother and American father - as such, he's got dual citizenship with the States and Mexico. In 1929, when Harrison is 12, his mother takes him to live with her in Mexico, because she has fallen in with a wealthy Mexican landowner. Harrison is there, somewhat aimlessly and passively (which seems to be his theme throughout the whole book), and while there, swims and learns to cook from the staff. When he meets Frida Kahlo at the market, he opts to go home with her, where he becomes employed initially in the kitchen and then as a plaster worker for Diego Rivera, her muralist husband. Lev Trotsky eventually moves into the household and Harrison becomes his personal secretary. During that time, he bears witness to the work that Trotsky does as well as his assassination by one of Stalin's agents. After moving back to the States, Harrison becomes a hugely successful writer, creating works of fiction mostly about Mexico's history and some of which provide political commentary. He also is targeted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee because of his interactions with the revolutionaries in Mexico. From the time that he lived in Mexico, he kept a journal/diary of sorts, which is what most of the novel is based upon and excerpts from.

I really enjoyed this novel. Where some reviewers were turned off by the ordinariness (what some others called the absolute apathy) of the main character, I was actually very much attracted to it.  The perspective of the average Joe to the historical events portrayed in this novel was very refreshing to me - I mean, we always hear how the major players felt (by their own paintings, journals or letters) but never how the average person really felt about the major events that were occurring. The characters were wonderfully and beautifully drawn and I really enjoyed reading about them and wondering what would happen to them.  The prose was, as usual and in the typical Kingsolver style, wonderful.  It was a breathtaking and poignant novel that I would recommend to anyone.

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