Book Review: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

September 15, 2010

The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver is the fictional story of Harrison William Sheppard, a quite boy of a dull American bureaucrat and a saucy Mexican mother. Sheppard, as he prefers to be called, spends his childhood with his mother in Mexico filling out notebooks with stories and memories while she chases rich prospective suitors.

  • 544 pages
  • Publisher : Harper Perennial
  • Language : English
  • ISBN-13 : 978-006085258

We meet Sheppard at age 12, living on the small island of Isla Pixol the lonely boy befriends the cook who teaches him how to cook and turns Sheppard into a sous-chef. Isla Pixol doesn’t have a school but as an avid reader Sheppard gets lost in the library, where his mother only allows him to read four books a week, and with his notebook. The boy’s mother, while pursuing another prospective husband, a “Mr. Produce the Cash”, drags poor Sheppard to Mexico City. Sheppard tries to reunite with his father, who promptly puts him in a military academy in Washington DC where Sheppard gets accidentally tangled up in the Bonus March Riots.

Soon Sheppard leaves his mother to her romantic escapades and uses his kitchen skills to get a job mixing plaster for the murals of Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Before long the boy gets a job as a cook in the Rivera household as well as a typist for Mr. Rivera’s wife, famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The Riveras are well known communists and host ousted Communist leader Leon Trotsky. Sheppard cooks during the day and works on his epic novel at night, along with recording the daily ins and outs of the Rivera household (now playing host to meetings and intrigue).

After turmoil abounds, Sheppard leaves to the US and, at age 24, settles in Asheville, NC where he becomes a successful author of Mexican historical fiction and a mysterious bachelor which all the women clamor to capture in their net. However, his troubled life only starts when the House of Un-American Activities Committee sets their unholy sights on him as a Communist sympathizer.The story is told posthumously, through the journals and notebooks which the protagonist kept, and his secretary – the colorfully named but drab in life Violet Brown – has published. Along with magazine articles, book reviews letters and even Congressional transcripts the story moves along.

“The Lacuna” touches on many subjects, Sheppard – half American half Mexican – who speaks English with a slight accent and Spanish / Mexican with a slight accent as well, is the constant foreigner– never at home and never at peace. Throughout the book the reader gets a chance to examine the American political psyche of the time, going with Sheppard through the events which tarnished his life and reputation, taking events and actions out of context and putting them on a public stage during the 1950’s witch hunt orchestrated by the infamous Senator McCarthy.

Lacuna means the space between two objects, the space between the water and the top of a cave or the space between what is true and the perception of truth. As I learned from working years with marketing people (as an IT person) the truth is meaningless, all people know is the truth they perceive. One of the characters in the book astutely observers: people only know that they are anticommunists without knowing what communism really is or even supporting its principals.

The story, even though fictional, is filled with historical figures which some of them, like Trotsky, were a bit over romanticized; nevertheless “The Lacuna” is well researched, ambitious and well written.

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Zohar – Man of La Book
Dis­claimer: I borrowed this book
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on books
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The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

One Comment

  • teressa oliverJanuary 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    I have not read this one, but I have read a few by this writer. She has a way of just drawing you in with descriptive narratives. Thanks for this review, I will have to add this to my TBR pile

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