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Lacuna (Kingsolver) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
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.
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times


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.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


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.
Los Angeles Times


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


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.
Publishers Weekly


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
Library Journal


Unapologetically political metafiction from Kingsolver 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 novels about 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.
Kirkus Reviews




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