The Lacuna

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In this powerfully imagined, provocative novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is the poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as well as an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself.

Winner of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction

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The Lacuna

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In this powerfully imagined, provocative novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is the poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as well as an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself.

Winner of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
“...True and riveting...Barbara Kingsolver has invented a wondrous filling here, sweeter and thicker than pan dulce, spicy as the hottest Mexican chiles, paranoid as the American government hunting Communists ”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“A sweeping narrative of utopian dreams and political reality…A stirring novel…intimate and pitch-perfect.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Shepherd’s story in Kingsolver’s accomplished literary hands is so seductive, the prose so elegant, the architecture of the novel so imaginative, it becomes hard to peel away from the book”
Washington Post
“The most mature and ambitious [novel] she’s written…An absorbing portrayal of American life…A rich novel [with] a large, colorful canvas…A tender story about a thoughtful man.”
New York Times Book Review
“Breathtaking...dazzling...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...But the fuller value...lies in its call to conscience and connection.”
The New Yorker
“Compelling…Kingsolver’s descriptions of life in Mexico City burst with sensory detail—thick sweet breads, vividly painted walls, the lovely white feet of an unattainable love.”
Chicago Tribune
“Rich…impassioned…engrossing…Politics and art dominate the novel, and their overt, unapologetic connection is refreshing.”
“[Kingsolver’s] playful pastiche brings to vivid life the culture wars of an earlier era...”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Kingsolver deftly combines real history and the life of the fictional protagonist…A sweeping tale.”
Los Angeles Times
“A lavishly gifted writer... Kingsolver [has a] wonderful ear for the quirks of human repartee. The Lacuna is richly spiked with period language... This book grabs at the heartstrings...”
Kansas City Star
“[Kingsolver] stirs the real with the imagined to produce a breathtakingly ambitious book, bold and rich…hopeful, political and artistic. The Lacuna fills a lacuna with powerfully imagined social history
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Masterful…a reader receives the great gift of entering not one but several worlds…The final pages haunt me still.”
Seattle Times
“A sweeping mural of sensory delights and stimulating ideas about art, government, identity and history…Readers will feel the sting of connection between then and now.”
Denver Post
“A work that is often close to magic.... Much research underlies this complex weaving...but the work is lofted by lyric prose.”
“[Kingsolver] hasn’t lost her touch...she delivers her signature blend of exotic locale, political backdrop and immediately engaging story line...teems with dark beauty.”
Liesl Schillinger
How can the experiences of a fictional loner merge with those of larger-than-life figures who played a pivotal role in world politics? And what can readers learn from their intersection? Those are the questions answered by this dazzling novel, which plunges into Shepherd's notebooks to dredge up not only the perceptions they conceal but also a history larger than his own, touching on everything from Trotskyism, Stalinism and the Red scare to racism, mass hysteria and the media's intrusion into personal and national affairs…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. She has mined Shepherd's richly imagined history to create a tableau vivant of epochs and people that time has transformed almost past recognition. Yet it's a tableau vivant whose story line resonates in the present day, albeit with different players. Through Shepherd's resurrected notebooks, Kingsolver gives voice to truths whose teller could express them only in silence.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
…the most mature and ambitious [novel] she's written during her celebrated 20-year career, but it's also [Kingsolver's] most demanding…a novel of capital-L Liberal ideas—workers' rights, sexual equality, artistic freedom…Nevertheless, this rich novel is certainly bigger than its politics. It resurrects several dramatic events of the early 20th century that have fallen out of public consciousness, brings alive the forgotten details of everyday life in the 1940s, and illustrates how attitudes and prejudices are shaped by political opportunism and the rapacious media. But despite this large, colorful canvas, ultimately The Lacuna is a tender story about a thoughtful man who just wanted to enjoy that basic American right: the right to be left alone.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Kingsolver's ambitious new novel, her first in nine years (after the The Poisonwood Bible), focuses on Harrison William Shepherd, the product of a divorced American father and a Mexican mother. After getting kicked out of his American military academy, Harrison spends his formative years in Mexico in the 1930s in the household of Diego Rivera; his wife, Frida Kahlo; and their houseguest, Leon Trotsky, who is hiding from Soviet assassins. After Trotsky is assassinated, Harrison returns to the U.S., settling down in Asheville, N.C., where he becomes an author of historical potboilers (e.g., Vassals of Majesty) and is later investigated as a possible subversive. 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. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Diego Rivera's mural in Mexico's Palacio Nationale was only half complete the day young Harrison Shepherd stood transfixed before it, but he would be forever captive to the extraordinary power of the imagination. A solitary child, a devourer of books, left to his own devices by a mother chasing unattainable men and a father pencil pushing for the government back in the States, Harrison observes and he writes. When a quirk of fate lands him in the home of Communist sympathizers Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife, Harrison becomes enmeshed in the turbulent history that will inform his life and work. Through the distinctive voices of Harrison and his insightful amanuensis, Violet Brown, Kingsolver paints a verbal panorama spanning three decades and two countries. World War I veterans protesting for benefits denied, the unleashing of the atomic bomb, the McCarthy hearings, censorship of the arts, and abuse by the press corps lend credence to the sentiment that the more things change, the more they remain the same. VERDICT As in The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver perfects the use of multiple points of view, even reprinting actual newspaper articles to blur the line between fact and fiction. This is her most ambitious, timely, and powerful novel yet. Well worth the wait.—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews
Unapologetically political metafiction from Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer, 2000, etc.) about the small mistakes or gaps (lacunas) that change history. Set in leftist Mexico in the 1930s and the United States in the '40s and '50s, the novel is a compilation of diary entries, newspaper clippings (real and fictional), snippets of memoirs, letters and archivist's commentary, all concerning Harrison Shepherd. In 1929, Harrison's Mexican-born mother deserts his American father, a government bureaucrat, and drags 11-year-old Harrison back to Mexico to live with her rich lover on a remote island. There Harrison discovers his first lacuna, an underwater cave that leads to a secret pool. As his mother moves from man to man, Harrison learns to fend for himself. His disastrous two-year stint at boarding school back in America is marked by his awakening homosexuality (left vague thanks to the lacuna of a missing diary) and his witnessing of the Hoover administration's violent reaction to a riot of World War I homeless vets. In 1935, Harrison returns to Mexico, where he becomes first a lowly but beloved member of the Diego Rivera/Frida Kahlo household, then secretary to Leon Trotsky until Trotsky's assassination. Kingsolver is at her best in the pages brimming with the seductive energy of '30s Mexico: its colors, tastes, smells, the high drama of Trotsky and Kahlo, but also the ordinary lives of peasants and the working poor. When Harrison returns to the States, however, the novel wilts. His character never evolves, and the dialogue grows increasingly polemic as his story becomes a case study of the postwar anticommunist witch-hunt. Harrison moves to Asheville, N.C., writes fabulously popular novelsabout ancient Mexico, hires as his secretary a widow whom the reader knows already as his archivist, and is then hounded out of the country by the House Un-American Activities Committee, with fateful results. A richly satisfying portrait of Mexico gives way to a preachy, padded and predictable chronicle of Red Scare America.
People Magazine
"[Kingsolver] hasn’t lost her touch...she delivers her signature blend of exotic locale, political backdrop and immediately engaging story line...teems with dark beauty."
“[Kingsolver] hasn’t lost her touch...she delivers her signature blend of exotic locale, political backdrop and immediately engaging story line...teems with dark beauty.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060852580
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/20/2010
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 507
  • Sales rank: 113,190
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver's work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country's highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain's Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 8, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Annapolis, Maryland
    1. Education:
      B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981
    2. Website:

Interviews & Essays

Entitled, by Barbara Kingsolver

Titling a book should happen like a romance: the words should bedazzle the writer from the start. Getting swept off your feet is useful for book beginnings, as for marriage, as it can carry the smitten along through some of the constructive work and whining that inevitably lie ahead.

I've nursed this fantasy through many writing years: one after another, titles gazed at me across a crowded room and made me weak in the knees. The first time, I hardly knew what had hit me. I was a biology graduate student, walking across the University of Arizona campus to my favorite study haunt, an old brick library. I looked up to see the entire façade covered with an enormous wisteria vine, its branches flowing upward from one gnarled trunk, ending in a shimmering fringe of bean pods. I took it all in: the thousand pods, the absurdly arid ground, the roots that had pushed below cement, with their symbiotic microbes pulling nitrogen out of empty dirt to fuel this magnificent productivity. (As I mentioned, I was a graduate student.) "Bean Trees," I said aloud, and understood I needed to write a novel about how people living together in communities can draw resources from unlikely places. This was not what I'd planned to do with my life. It took a few years to break it to my graduate committee.

But my point is, the title and theme of the book arrived together. It happened again and again. Animal Dreams, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, I received each one as a gift, the only part of writing that seemed effortless and beyond my control. A good title holds magic, some cognitive dissonance, a little grit between the teeth, but above allit is the jumping-off place into wonder. Titling a book is not like putting a coat of paint on a finished house. It's like finding a skeleton key in the grass, then devising locks, building them into doors. The key allows entry into every part of the house.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I found myself several years into writing my thirteenth book and it didn't have a title. It had a label, of the kind one scribbles on a manila folder: a file-cabinet description for my poor unchristened project. Maybe I've outgrown love-at-first-sight, I thought. I consoled myself with the memory of a previous novel that had gone through several titles, all bad, (one of them so awful my agent made squawking sounds over the phone when I proposed it), but in time I'd seen the light and called it The Poisonwood Bible. Order returned after that. The next four book ideas arrived with titles attached.

Now, though, in the autumn of 2007, I was more than halfway through a draft of this novel whose name remained at large. Unlucky thirteen? I felt panic rising. Just in time to send me over the edge, I learned that the current Wikipedia entry for author Barbara Kingsolver made the bizarre claim that a new novel (titled with the file-folder name) would be released at the end of that month! "What's the problem?" my husband asked his supine wife, in a lull between her howls. "You've still got three weeks."

A full year later, I was finally closing in on a solid draft. This was the most difficult, research-intensive, delicious creation I'd ever sunk my teeth into - and I still had no idea what to call it. My story was full of secret passageways, tunnels through time and lives. It was about missing manuscript pages, dark caves, people who disappear against the backdrop, and the howling falsehoods that obscure quiet truths, all connected thematically with an underwater cave the protagonist discovers while diving in the sea. The image of that cave was as potent for me as the Bean Trees that stopped me in my career tracks twenty-two years before. I hungered for enough words to describe it.

I keep Roget's Thesaurus within reach of my desk chair. I love the heft of this white book, its treasury of associations, for even though no two words in our language have precisely the same meaning, a good thesaurus can lead you down the trail to exactly the one you need. I leafed through the wafer-thin pages. This sea-cave in my novel was a grotto, a chasm, an orifice, an interval, a missing link, a void, a . . . lacuna.

Dear reader, I swooned. I heard the angel chorus, the cherubs fluttering overhead holding up the banner: THE LACUNA. This word whose many intertwined meanings unlocked every room in the house I'd built. I typed it, and stared. It's possible that I smacked myself on the forehead. I could not wait to march downstairs from my study and announce to my family, "I have a title! The Lacuna!"

My husband put on his kindest I-hate-to-tell-you-this face. The trouble with my fabulous title, he offered, is that most people don't know what that word means.

"Oh," I said. "Well. I hope they will learn it soon."

I'll confess, I've had my moments of doubt. Or I've rationalized. I did name a novel Prodigal Summer, and almost nobody knows what prodigal means either. (It has nothing to do with returning home.) When people ask, "What is the name of your new book?" I brace myself for the furrowed brow. I am sorry, I wish it were otherwise, and if I've sent anyone begrudgingly to the dictionary, I swear I'm not out to thump the American noggin one vocabulary word at a time, this is not eighth-grade English. It's just that no other word will do. We have no exact synonym for lacuna, with its scent of old manuscripts and mystery, its dark salt taste of geology, its Latinate echoes, these grooves and ridges of meaning. This is the one. I found my key lying in the grass, in the nick of time. I suppose it must have been there all along.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 413 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 180 Customer Reviews
  • 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.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    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 spend my time with.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2010


    I was so looking forward to this book. I've enjoyed Kingsolver's earlier work. I didn't recognize her voice in The Lacuna. It read like Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende but without the humor or depth of character. I couldn't finish the book. Others have told me that "it has its slow parts" but the entire first half? Disappointing.

    8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Lacuna is aptly titled - there's something missing

    The Lacuna treats familiar themes in some very predictable ways.

    Those who prefer history "straight" with no fictional inventions will likely find The Lacuna disappointing. Readers who like their fiction to be exactly that - pure invention - will undoubtedly find the sections with Rivera/Kahlo, Trotsky, Stalin, HUAC (all real) intrusive.

    The most lively and exciting sections are those that are Kingsolver's creation entirely: the protagonist's Mexican mother, a female Cortes, whose efforts to successfully sniff out men and their gold eludes her; the protagonist's early successes as a writer, who sets female hearts aflame inadvertently' and the relationship between the protagonist and his "shrinking Violet" stenographer. These don't occur until two-thirds of the way through the book and readers must plow through cartoon-like renderings of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and writing that tries its best to make Leon Trotsky and what remains of his family sympathetic. But, as the title of the book suggests, something is missing here.

    The ending of the book comes as no surprise to this reader; it was clear to me what would occur. How one interprets the literal events at the end depend upon whether or not a reader seeks something happy and tidy or not. And that would mean caring about the characters - or at least caring about the protagonist. Ultimately, this reader did not.

    Thematically, the book treads heavily on the notion that we can bend, fold, spindle and mutilate history - including personal history - to our own ends. If there is a void, it will be filled and not necessarily by reason or the truth. Kingsolver takes this theme global and offers us an America that energes from WW II cocky and self assured, though woefully wrong-headed almost all of the time. The theme finds its parallels in the writings of Kingsolver's protagonist, who endeavors to share his vision of the Mexican Empire with a reading public that prefers whatever history it encounters to be dipped in blood, lust and power, a Mayan or Aztec bodice-ripper.

    Ultimately, I found The Lacuna to be well-written and predicated upon vast stores of factual material. But, again, like its title, there is something missing. You've heard this story before - and done better.

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    intriguing historical epic

    His father is an American who has nothing to do with him; his mother is a Mexican who sort of raised him, but parenting was not her gig. Thus early on, Harrison William Shepherd learned to take care of himself as he grew up in Mexico without the benefit of schooling. He found books and loved reading; self taught of course. He begins writing as an adolescent; claiming his work is that of Mexican notorieties like artists Rivera and Kahlo, and Russian Bolshevik exile Trotsky; eventually he meets some of his heroes.

    When his hero Trotsky is assassinated allegedly by another Bolshevik, Harrison heeds the advice of Kahlo to flee for America to become a full time writer. He authors historical fiction while supporting the Communist Worker's Movement in North America until 1951when the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities orders him to testify.

    The Lacuna is a an intriguing historical epic that uses diaries and memoirs to tell the tale of the Communist movement in Mexico and the United States starting from the Great Depression until the McCarthy hearings. The story line is very deep as the audience sees into the souls of the two artists (and their works) as well as to a lesser degree Trotsky amongst other leading lights in the North American "heyday" of Communism. Although the pace is slow and never accelerates, the story line is insightful and in many ways cautionary as Barbara Kingsolver provides a powerful look at two decades in American and Mexican history that has reverberations with today's recession.

    Harriet Klausner

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

    The Lacuna

    I forced myself to stick with this one, given my enthusiasm for Ms. Kingsolver's previous novels. The first half was tough - what kept me going was her telling of the history of Mexico, the relationships between Shepard, Violet, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Lev Trotsky...and all the other characters. The last half kept my interest.

    I'd recommend only if you're a diehard Kingsolver fan.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    Not as compelling as "The Poisonwood Bible."

    Although Kingsolver's style of writing is attractive--and she clearly does her research--this story was sort of "so what?" for me. I could easily put this book down for several days at a time (and did) without feeling drawn to pick it up and keep going. The last half was better than the first (i.e., once Shepherd came to the US). Overall, it was just so-so. Definitely NOT one of my all-time favorites as "The Poisonwood Bible" was.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2009

    what a disappointment

    I have read everything to this point that Barbara Kingsolver has written, so when I saw this book out, I didn't even wait to find out what it was about but bought it outright. I delved into it immediately and lost interest almost immediately. I picked this book up three times before I finally gave up. the characters were superficial and one dimensional. the back and forth with the diary writings was distracting, and there was just nothing to keep me turning pages.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    I've tried several times to get past the first hundred pages of this slog, and can't seem to do it. I gave up and gave the book to a friend who liked another Kingsolver book.

    The author has no hook to draw one in, wanders around without any sense of urgency or, really, even that someone else might be reading it.

    Buy it when it goes into remainders. At least you'll get your money's worth.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    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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  • Posted May 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    It all makes sense in the end...

    even if the end did not come soon enough.

    I struggled with this book through the first three quarters. It seemed like I was reading a number of different of novels that just didn't connect. I don't want to give anything away to those who are going to read the book, but it does all end up connecting - literally the first page to the last. I am not sure, however, 497 pages were needed before a ten page wrap up.

    I don't recommend this as a light read. The material is deep and requires a lot of thought and connecting the dots.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    Barbara Kingsolver does it again

    I've been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver since The Bean Trees, and The Lacuna did not disappoint. This book is wonderful in its imagery, language, and story. It is clear that Kingsolver did exhaustive research to create authentic settings and be historically accurate, especially for a work of fiction. The contrast between the settings in the book so perfectly parallels the protagonist's struggle to come to terms with his own two sides. I loved watching this scared, neglected little boy grow to be a resourceful, adventurous young man, and finally into the quiet, reserved writer. Kingsolver masterfully creates an entire cast of players. She never pads her books with extraneous two-dimensional characters whose only purpose is to further a plot line. All of her characters are engaging and real. I felt like I really knew them and connected with them all. Great book.

    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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2010

    The book was very hard to read and comprehend.

    I did not like the book, it was very hard to read. The writing style of Barbara Kingsolver was not to my liking. Being a college student and reading and skimming many books for both content and out of necessity of getting information to apply to the course and the degree, I found it hard to get through one sentence to get onto the next.

    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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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    It ain't Poisonwood Bible but it's pretty good

    Barbara Kingsolver raised my expectations so high with Poisonwood Bible that she'll probably leave me somewhat disappointed with any of her other books. I was very drawn in to the characters in the Lacuna. An original plot line and story. Great ending.It's rare for me to be so satisfied with an ending as I was with the Lacuna. Usually, when I read a great book I hate when it ends.Feels like I've lost a friend. The Lacuna ending was so perfect it was satisfying and I didn't want the story to go on in case it might spoil the ending.

    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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