The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
July 13, 2010 10 Comments
Quite the tome, this book (660 pages, 2009) but worth most of my reading time. I found the beginning a little tiresome (Harrison’s life in Mexico) but enjoyed his USA adventures.
Adventures? Really, Harrison Shepherd, the protagonist, doesn’t do much, but things happen to him.
In Mexico he works for Rivera and Kahlo, painters (that really existed), who take in Lev Trotsky, the communist, after he is on the run from Stalin (this also really happened). Shepherd works as a secretary for Trotsky for a while, still at the Rivera house.
Later he moves to the USA, initially to drop some of Kahlo’s paintings off but he decides to stay. He becomes a writer but is accused of communism – this is in the 1940s when the iron curtain has just gone up.
Somehow you’d think his life in Mexico would be exotic and interesting but somehow it wasn’t. I didn’t care much for the historically well-known Trotsky, Kahlo and Rivera. The characters weren’t explained well enough I think (what they were like, how well-known they were, except maybe Trotsky).
Maybe this was partly due to the way the first part of the book was presented – as a diary written by the main character. During the book, several different forms of texts were used: diary, reports, letters, newspaper articles. I guess the style in the later part of the book suited me more.
However, when Shepherd moved to the USA, the history and politics of the 1930s and 1940s were quite interesting. Also the character of the stenographer, Mrs. Brown was an interesting addition to the story. I never felt very attached to Shepherd himself.
I learned some new things about American history but also found my prejudices confirmed of how people in the USA can take things to the extreme: In the 1940s they try very hard to support the war in Europe, to the extend that they hand in their hair pins and other useful small and large items to be made into war machinery. I’m pretty sure no-one in Europe went that far, but admittedly, not much war industry was going on there (except maybe for England and Germany).
As a second point of proof, a complete man hunt is started after the 2nd World War to find those terrible communists that the country (USA) is (suddenly) riddled with: they can be found anywhere!! Especially if the state pays informants a good amount to come up with some names! I was very unhappy about this all, especially because it was directly relevant to the story: Shepherd becomes a victim of the communist hunts while very obviously never having been interested in politics. He was unlucky to have spent some time with Trotsky (by accident of history).
Anyway, I’m sure all countries have had their historical hysterias (the Dutch had their Tulip fever in the 1600s and when it comes to soccer we’re pretty ridiculous too!).
In all, it was a good book to read. The ending was slightly mysterious but satisfying. Rating: 4.5/5 stars.
Extra: My review of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: HERE.