The Lacuna
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The Lacuna

3.1 180
by Barbara Kingsolver
     
 

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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.

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

People
“[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.”
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."
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
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
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.
Denver Post
“A work that is often close to magic.... Much research underlies this complex weaving...but the work is lofted by lyric prose.”
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.”
Vogue
“[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.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060852573
Publisher:
Harper Torch
Publication date:
11/03/2009
Pages:
507
Sales rank:
911,748
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
April 8, 1955
Place of Birth:
Annapolis, Maryland
Education:
B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981
Website:
http://www.kingsolver.com

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