Customer Reviews for

The Lacuna

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

Wow, Kingsolver has Written another GREAT BOOK

This book is a fantastic read from start to finish. I think this may be her best book yet.

I am a huge fan of Kingsolver's fiction, but I think this one has the best character portrayals. When I heard the premise of the plot I thought it would be rather staged or...
This book is a fantastic read from start to finish. I think this may be her best book yet.

I am a huge fan of Kingsolver's fiction, but I think this one has the best character portrayals. When I heard the premise of the plot I thought it would be rather staged or forced. But Frida Kahlo is so wonderfully imagined in this book, I found myself wanting to reconsider my formerly negative opinion of her paintings. Why? I guess because Kingsolver made me see them from a new perspective. I realize that it is fiction, but somehow I never "got" Kahlo until I read this novel. Now I realize she was probably like a lot of the women in my life: strong, hard to like, easy to admire, full of kick ass rebellion, and uniquely beautiful but also a very jealous, protective person. Once I finished the novel I actually decided I needed to go see some of her paintings and look at them again.

I also laughed out loud at some of the descriptions of things like Bauhaus architecture as seen through Kahlo's eyes and noted down by the protagonist in his fictional diaries. This was true of many of the other characters as well; suddenly the idea of Rivera as this bumbling, charismatic, frustrating man was so intense to me that I felt as if I had actually met him. Kingsolver makes each of the "famous" people in this book come to life that way. The small details of their appearance are so vividly imagined that you feel as if you were at a party with all of them, or shared a house one summer during college.

Kingsolver does not disappoint. I had no idea where she was taking us until the last chapter. Just like real life, the twists and turns of the plot were so unexpected, but then once I had gotten to the end I looked back and said: oh, of course that is what happened. I think that may be the mark of a really good book.

Great book to read in the winter, especially if there is a huge blizzard out your window and you want to just get away. Although this is not an escapist fantasy, the setting is so beautifully drawn that you will be whisked away to the azure waters of Mexico, or stand atop the Mayan ruins and forget the snow outside that falls.

Thanks, Kingsolver, for this wonderful novel.

posted by 1030260 on February 20, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

give up...

Decided to quit at page 78. I have enjoyed every previous book of this author, especially the mezmerizing 'Poisonwood Bible', but in this novel many, many pages are just pretentious, tedious and egotistical ramblings. There are so many better books out right now to sp...
Decided to quit at page 78. I have enjoyed every previous book of this author, especially the mezmerizing 'Poisonwood Bible', but in this novel many, many pages are just pretentious, tedious and egotistical ramblings. There are so many better books out right now to spend my time with.

posted by mouliin on December 2, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Wow, Kingsolver has Written another GREAT BOOK

    This book is a fantastic read from start to finish. I think this may be her best book yet.

    I am a huge fan of Kingsolver's fiction, but I think this one has the best character portrayals. When I heard the premise of the plot I thought it would be rather staged or forced. But Frida Kahlo is so wonderfully imagined in this book, I found myself wanting to reconsider my formerly negative opinion of her paintings. Why? I guess because Kingsolver made me see them from a new perspective. I realize that it is fiction, but somehow I never "got" Kahlo until I read this novel. Now I realize she was probably like a lot of the women in my life: strong, hard to like, easy to admire, full of kick ass rebellion, and uniquely beautiful but also a very jealous, protective person. Once I finished the novel I actually decided I needed to go see some of her paintings and look at them again.

    I also laughed out loud at some of the descriptions of things like Bauhaus architecture as seen through Kahlo's eyes and noted down by the protagonist in his fictional diaries. This was true of many of the other characters as well; suddenly the idea of Rivera as this bumbling, charismatic, frustrating man was so intense to me that I felt as if I had actually met him. Kingsolver makes each of the "famous" people in this book come to life that way. The small details of their appearance are so vividly imagined that you feel as if you were at a party with all of them, or shared a house one summer during college.

    Kingsolver does not disappoint. I had no idea where she was taking us until the last chapter. Just like real life, the twists and turns of the plot were so unexpected, but then once I had gotten to the end I looked back and said: oh, of course that is what happened. I think that may be the mark of a really good book.

    Great book to read in the winter, especially if there is a huge blizzard out your window and you want to just get away. Although this is not an escapist fantasy, the setting is so beautifully drawn that you will be whisked away to the azure waters of Mexico, or stand atop the Mayan ruins and forget the snow outside that falls.

    Thanks, Kingsolver, for this wonderful novel.

    13 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Best Kingsolver Since 'Poisonwood Bible'

    Starts a little slow, but the action and characters come to life when Hoover, Frida, Diego, and Trotsky come on the scene. This is a great book and a wonderful, interesting read -- colorful fiction, based on historical facts -- better than being there. Don't miss it!

    9 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2010

    Worthy of the awards this book has received

    Don't put this book down until after the first 100 pages. It's a slow starter, but once the story gets going, this book was great. Kingsolver describes a period in world history that is very interesting. I loved the main character and his story.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    RIGHT UP THERE WITH POISONWOOD BIBLE

    While reading "The Lacuna" I found myself viewing again "Frida" and looking at a book I had bought about her life and paintings. As many reviewers have said, it was intriguing the way the story was woven around historical characters. I did realize also, that with today's sensational news stories and 24 hour news, I have come to believe that many of the news stories are exaggerated or distorted and finding the real truth is not always easy. Fifty years ago, we can see that this problem was evidenced in the way news was bent to justify the politics of the time. It was also interesting in how a true "American" was defined. Then the people to be feared were the unChristian unAmerican communists. Now are they the unAmerican, unChristian "terrorists/Muslims" or the "socialist government?" As Kingsolver said in her book, we weren't against communism, we were just anticommunists. Now, once again, aren't we just against what we once again don't understand and what we are told we should be against, because those who are in control are setting the agenda? Is our patriotism being questioned by superpatriots that have made themselves the judges of what is truly American and what is not--of what a true American looks like or what faith he holds? A good book makes you think of questions that we should ask ourselves about our society, and entertain us at the same time."The Lacuna" did both and I applaud the author for the beauty of this book and also for helping me to see that everytime I think our country has gone too far in the wrong direction, there is hope that it will turn around.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2010

    Brilliant

    I kept wondering how she would end this quirky tale. Brilliantly!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    Kingsolver creates literary masterpiece: her newest work, "The Lacuna" creates an opening to our recent past, and a mirror of the darker side of our present.

    "The Lacuna" is one of the best novels I've read in years. Kingsolver has again woven together place, time and character into a fascinating story. The work engages the as a character driven fictional biography, and leads the reader to richly exciting and disturbing vision of 20th century North American history.
    The image of a lucana, or opening, is established in the first segments of the book as the protagonist, Harrison Shepard, braves the island tides of his Mexican boyhood home to investigate into a mysterious underwater cave opening. The image gains myriad new resonances throughout the novel. His parents, one Mexican, one American, are separated, and his dual nationality becomes an advantage and a burden as he finds refuge and alienation within both.
    He finishes his education during a short stint in Washington D.C. under the loose protection of his semi-estranged father. It is the early years of the Depression, and he is a witness to the encampment, uprising, and murder by calvary of the unpaid soldiers from WWI, who were demanding their payments from the government. Following this scene, we find him back in Mexico City, where he creates deep friendships with such figures as Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and becomes involved as a typist working for Lev Trotsky, revolutionary in exile.

    An unstoppable writer, Harrison records all his private thoughts and experiences; given his connections, these form a rich record of fascinating personalities and historical events which Kingsolver paints in her exquisite prose. As the character matures, and the well known events of history moves forward, Shepard, comes to work as a novelist in Asheville, North Carolina. His success as a writer of historical fiction, his history as a member of Trotsky's household, his endless record keeping, and his painful agoraphobia all play a role in creating a climactic confrontation with the forces of Senator McCarthy and his cadre during the 50s.

    Another character is revealed slowly through the flow of Kingsolver's carefully crafted novel. Violet Brown, first introduced to us as a mysterious set of initials, comes into the writer's life, and becomes his secretary. Her role as doorkeeper of the protagonist's work and legacy proves another lacuna within this rich and provocative work.

    Deep questions underlie the novel: What is the role of the individual in times of national hardship? What is patriotism? What is the role of the media in shaping the public agenda? What is the role of art, of the artist? How are we responsible to our artists and their works? What is the risk and challenge of genius?

    I highly recommend this novel, and envy you your discovery of its unfolding mysteries. I will read it again many times in my life.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Another Kingsolver Masterpiece

    I am a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver, so I was excited about reading this one. I haven't quite finished it yet, so I don't know the ending. It's well written, it holds my interest. I loved the parts with Frida Kahlo and about the main character's childhood, was less crazy about the Trotsky section. See for yourself!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A great combination of literature and history

    One of my all-time favorite books is Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, about a family of American missionaries in the Belgian Congo in 1959, about the time of the end of colonialism in Africa. Kingsolver draws the reader into an unfamiliar world, with interesting, yet flawed, characters.

    Her latest novel, The Lacuna, tells the story of Harrison Shepherd, a young boy born to an American father and Mexican mother. His mother leaves his father to chase after a wealthy landowner in Mexico, with Harrison in tow. Harrison sees a unique woman in a market, and ends up befriending Frida Kahlo before she becomes a famous artist. Harrison shows a talent for mixing plaster, and Frida's lover, Diego Rivera, hires Harrison to work for him.

    Harrison becomes immersed in their artistic and political world. Artists are notoriously difficult, and Frida and Diego fit that stereotype. Through them, he meets Leo Trotsky, the exiled Russian Communist leader. Trotsky trusts few people, and Harrison becomes one of them, so he works for Trotsky.

    When Trotsky is murdered in front of him, Harrison heads back to the United States to live. He is an enigma to his neighbors, and even more so after he writes a novel that becomes a best seller. His Communist party ties come back to haunt him as the US government is beginning to ferret out the dangerous Communists in their midst.

    I read this book for Books in the City Immigrant Stories Challenge and it fits the bill doubly. Shepherd is an immigrant in both of the countries he lived in, and at home in neither. Although born in the US, he spent much of his youth and young adulthood in Mexico, where he was considered a gringo. When he came back to the US, he was unfamiliar with American customs and way of life. He was a man without a country.

    I enjoyed how Kingsolver used real historical characters and events to tell Harrison's story. I was fairly unfamiliar with Kahlo and Rivera's life and work, and although I knew a little more about Trotsky's life, I learned so much about that period of time, much like I did when I read The Poisonwood Bible.

    The story is told through the diaries that Shepherd kept, along with some commentary from his secretary, Mrs. Brown, who is a wonderful character. She wanted Shepherd's story to be told, and was unwavering in her loyalty to her boss.

    My favorite part of the story was Shepherd's fight to clear his name. The parallels between the poisoned, fearful political atmosphere in the 1950's, and the political atmosphere of today are intriguing. Either you are with us or you are against us, and if you are against us, you are not a patriot. All of the name calling on the cable news shows- calling anyone who wants universal health care a socialist, for example- while reading this book, you know the more things change, the more they sadly stay the same.

    The Lacuna is one of the best books I have read this year. There is so much to ponder and ruminate over, and the historical setting and characters make this novel a dream for history buffs and lovers of great literature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 24, 2010

    I don't understand the mediocre ratings...

    ... I found this book so convincing and compelling that I looked into whether Harrison Sheperd was a real person, as are Frida, Diego and Lev, just as the HUAC was real.
    He's a fictional character, it turns out, but had he been a real writer, I'd have looked into his work.
    I also very much appreciated the skill with which the author wove the notion of "lacuna" into the various parts of the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2010

    This is one amazing book

    Barbara Kingsolver writes an amazing and thought provoking novel. It is not a fast read, but it spans an era that we do not often hear about. It tackles hard questions about who the villains of the last century really are and who are the innocent victims. I loved how she wove historical characters and actual events. When viewed through the eyes of the main character, they take on a whole new understanding. I thoroughly loved this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    Thoroughly Enjoyed this Read!

    From the beautiful proses to the unique and well researched historical figures, I loved everything about this book. I was a bit confused at the beginning of the book, as it began with the main character's journal entries only to be explained later - odd, but it made the presentation of the book unique. I suggested this for my book club because of the intense moral issues and questions it raises. I am looking forward to our discussion!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Barabara Kingsolver's THE LACUNA

    I have read everything that Kingsolver has written and continue to be amazed at her range and entranced by her use of language. I am a character-driven reader and this book fits exactly. I actually stopped to see if it is fiction as she weaves historical characters with her fictitious main character so well. I actually 'saw' the ending conflict and slowed my reading as I did not want it to happen. And, as a great writer, Kingsolver did not go for the obvious but found a way for me to finish the book without the anticipated stress of 'my ending'. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 28, 2010

    Don't Be Put Off By the Letters & Journal Format

    I passed by this one many times because I usually dislike books in a correspondence or journal format. Too often they are choppy, and I prefer books that tell a story smoothly. That's the novelist's job, right? But, as a longtime fan of Kingsolver, I finally decided to give it a go. And wow! She is such a master that this one is as smooth and deep as all of her others. Plus, she did her homework on Mexico, the Russian revolution, the Depression and war years in the U.S., Mexican arts & letters, and, of course, the Riveras. It's that well-presented research that made this book, for me anyway, as good as her "Poisonwood Bible".

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Things Are Not Always What They Seem

    This is the author's first book in nine years, and she has written an exceptional story of a man with his life divided between two worlds, one in the villages of Mexico and the other in the U.S. in North Carolina. William Shepherd as a young man is raised by his flighty mother in a small village in Mexico near the coast. As a lonely child, Shepherd begins to write journals of his daily life, a passion that continued throughout his lifetime. These journals are an important element around which the author spins this story.
    Shepherd is sent to live with his father when his mother can no longer take care of him, and his father ships the boy off to boarding school. While in school, Shepherd sees the effects of the Great Depression on the veterans of WWII and their families, and the criminal actions taken by the government against these people.
    In this book, we encounter President Hoover, Gen. MacArthur, Richard Nixon, Senator Wood from Georgia, and several other people who played important roles in our history. The involvement of these historic figures in the events of this story may surprise the reader.
    Shepherd returned to Mexico where he learns to be resourceful and take care of himself. He learns to cook in the kitchens of the people he encounters, and he learns how to make money by running errands and doing other odd jobs. He finds a job mixing plaster for the famous muralist Diego Rivera, and as a result, he becomes lifelong friends with Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, and also an artist. This connection leads to his work as a secretary and translator for Lev Trotsky, the famous Russian exile who found refuge in Mexico.
    After Trotsky is murdered, Shepherd moves back to the U.S. where he begins writing Aztec history. He hires a stenographer, Violet Brown, who becomes a valuable influence in his life. Becoming unwillingly entangled in the Communist paranoia which found its expression in the McCarthy hearings, Shepherd escapes back to Mexico.
    This is a fascinating look at the difference in what is truth and what is public perception of the truth. It is how the press and political leaders can twist facts to their advantage and how lives can be destroyed in the process. It is also a story of love and loyalty mixed with tragedy and cruelty. It is filled with incredible descriptions of the countryside, both in rural Mexico and in the mountains of Appalachia. The characters in this story are intensely well-drawn and emotionally heightened. The reader becomes captivated by the events of history that wrap around these characters and that give depth to the novel.
    This is an excellent novel that I would recommend to all art lovers and history buffs. It has much to recommend it for book club discussion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent!

    I loved this book! At first, I just couldn't figure out where it was going, but I eventually just sat back and read it and put my faith in Barbara Kingsolver's writing and story telling skills. I was not disappointed. Her writing has evolved over the years and I have enjoyed and been moved by the direction it has taken.

    In this particular book she has weaved a fictitious story through historical events and historical figures. It works so well, I found myself believing that Shepherd really existed. The historical aspect of it is not well known to most Americans, at least it wasn't to me, and I found my curiosity piqued and now I want to find out more. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo I knew, and the McCarthy era, but the nuances and deeper historical facts I wasn't familiar with.

    I can't wait to read what she writes next--I just hope I don't have to wait 9 years for it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    Great Book!

    Loved this book! Made me remember how much I enjoy reading Barbara Kingsolver. I'm going back and re-reading some old ones, and I've also ordered ones I haven't read before.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Beyond wonderful - such a thrill to enjoy a read like this

    'The Lacuna', by Barbara Kingsolver is one of the best books I've ever read. It's a gorgeous, moving novel that succeeds on both the small, personal level and also in the reach for overarching truths about history and about human nature.

    I was fortunate enough to see Ms. Kingsolver launch this book here in Asheville, North Carolina, where the second half of 'The Lacuna' takes place. During her presentation, she defined the word 'lacuna' for us - it's a missing part of a story or manuscript and, also, a hydro-geological formation, a hole in a cliff wall formed by tidal pull.

    The novel makes brilliant use of both definitions in chronicling a young man's life through servitude in a number of intriguing Mexican households, his association with the art world, his ascension to success as a novelist in the United States and, finally, to his scrutiny in 1950 by the House Un-American Activities Committee, as Senator Joseph McCarthy geared up to draw the lines that still linger under and over our subconscious crosswalks.

    If you've the time and inclination, I can't recommend it enough.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An intelligent and provocative read!

    Kingsolver takes us on an historical journey seen through the eyes of an innocent; the political times and issues broached bring to mind the politics of today. Kinsolver's writing style is impressive and often reads as lovely prose with, however, deep and often heartrenching truths.
    A fabulous read!
    Enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2010

    A Five Star Read

    it's been a while since this avid reader was so awed by a book. It's not a book I breezed through -- I enjoyed savoring the beautiful language, images, and ideas. It is a brilliant commentary on how our lives are shaped by politics and forces larger than ourselves. Bravo, Barbara Kingsolver! This is a book to be treasured, reread, and talked about with other thoughtful readers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    An outstanding achievement

    I consider this book to be Kingsolver's masterpiece. The breadth of the material she covers is matched by the depth of her historical research and creative ability to bring it to life. From the brilliant portrayal of famous characters like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky to the painful recollection of episodes like the bonus marchers or the HUAC hearings, I found myself enthralled. The narrative form using annotated notebooks of the dual protagonist (American Shepherd Harrison/Mexican Soli plus his wonderful assitant Violet Brown) was highly original and was a masterful way to present this complicated material in a hugely readable and enjoyable way, not to mention the brilliant ending which left me thinking about the book long after I'd finished it. Given Ms. Kingsolver's bitter commentary (via the book) on the price of literary success, and the ambitious scope of this work which may not be an easy sell to a large American audience, I can only hope she chooses to continue producing books of this extremely high caliber.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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