Monday, June 27, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

My book group met Saturday night. We ate fondue, drank wine, and discussed our latest historical novel, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Is there any part of that that doesn't sound wonderful?

This was my first Kingsolver book. Kingsolver is another of those must-read authors for me that I keep intending to read but don't seem to get to. That list is so dauntingly long, there's no good place to start. Luckily, this book was elected our book club's choice. Just the push I needed.

The fictional narrator, Harrison Shepherd, is the son of a minor American beaurocrat and a Mexican woman with big dreams but a narrow vision. "Harry" is forced from a young age to learn to survive on his own, scraping his way on the fringes of society. He's a loner who tries not to draw too much attention to himself. He is enamored of words and stays sane by recording the details of his life and the world around him in a series of notebooks. The book uses these notebooks (and a fictional secretary/archivist/friend) to provide a curious blend of third person-diary memoir. In such skilled hands, this technique works surprisingly well.

Harry grows up in Mexico. As he reaches young adulthood, he finds work with the great Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. He is with them when they provide asylum to Trotsky, and later, Harry goes to work for this famous exile. Harry is more or less apolitical. Or claims to be. He's simply a cook, a secretary, and a secret novelist.

As historical events unfold, Harry has to leave Mexico. He moves to the United States where he blossoms into a writer, a phenomenally successful one. But the success of his art draws public attention to him as a person. This ends up causing trouble Harry never foresaw.

The Lacuna is an extraordinary book. The fictional characters are woven into history in a completely believable way, so real and compelling they leap off the page. Kingsolver's use of language is beautiful. Although it's a long book, it flies by.

So, we swirled our crusty bread in smooth thick cheese, washed it down with Riesling, and sang Kingsolver's praises. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.


  1. I agree, for such a long book it really did fly by. I liked how Kingsolver made the historical characters seem real, I just loved Frieda.

    The Poisonwood Bible is better though!

  2. Great review! This is still on my TBR list. I think you will love The Poisonwood Bible. It made me an immediate fan of Barbara Kingsolver.

  3. I loved this book too. It was an audiobook for me, and I think that made it even better. I loved learning about Mexico, Rivera, and a little about that historical period. The book kept me enthralled.

  4. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday night indeed. I've read two Kingsolvers- The Poisonwood Bible- which was extraordinary (although I didn't like the last 1/3 quite so much), and then the memoir about her farm which I can't remember the name of just now.