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176 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating political novel with a great cast
Ten years ago, Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible revealed the grim politics in the Congo. The Lacuna has a similarly political theme, this time turning her focus on Mexico and The US in the 1940s and 1950s.

I have to confess that I had to look up "Lacuna" in the dictionary. For the benefit of anyone as dumb as me, then it means a gap or missing piece. The...
Published on 28 Oct 2009 by Ripple

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55 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Lacuna: Warm, witty and painful...
Since I read Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favourite writers, and I was not disappointed with her latest effort. Almost entirely written in diary and letter form, it is a private and intimate look at the life of Harrison Sheperd, a half American, half Mexican writer. Most of it is from his own perspective, starting as a young boy and covering the...
Published on 17 Mar 2010 by Book 1981


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176 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating political novel with a great cast, 28 Oct 2009
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Lacuna (Hardcover)
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Ten years ago, Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible revealed the grim politics in the Congo. The Lacuna has a similarly political theme, this time turning her focus on Mexico and The US in the 1940s and 1950s.

I have to confess that I had to look up "Lacuna" in the dictionary. For the benefit of anyone as dumb as me, then it means a gap or missing piece. The title is apt on a number of levels. The book is told as if written by the fictional young boy and later writer Harrison Shepherd, initially though his diaries and later in newspaper articles and letters all compiled by the equally fictitious VB whose identity and relationship to the narrator are revealed later in the book.

Harrison grows up in Mexico (his flapper mother is divorced from his American father who still lives in "gringolandia". Always drawn to writing his experiences, after briefly attending a school in the US (where some parts of the diary are missing - one example of a Lacuna) he returns to Mexico and encounters the muralists and political activists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo joining their household as a cook and mixer of plaster for Rivera. Harrison forms a connection with Frida (though unlike most of her male connections, Harrison is clearly gay and is more of a confidant to Frida) and through this connection gets to work with the exiled Lev Trotsky.

Later in the book more real life characters are introduced including the hunt for communist sympathisers led by J Edgar Hoover.

Another interpretation of the Lacuna is some of the "missing" history of the US - much of it political history that it would perhaps rather ignore. The first instance is when Harrison is at school and encounters the WWI veterans who camp in Washington DC to protest at being denied their bonus payments, and then onto the blindness to the actions of Trotsky's great adversary Stalin and later onto the communist paranoia that gripped the US. Kingsover brings her talent for political fiction onto both the US and Mexico in ways that are unsettling. While some of the articles quoted as press are indeed fictional, the reader gets a cold chill when they check some of the most scary ones and finds that they are in fact genuine - particularly in the tone taken against the Japanese in the mid 1940s - with not even the poor Japanese Beetle safe from Life magazines xenophobia.

Once or twice the clash between fiction and reality is clunky - Harrison asks Trotsky `so what really happened with Stalin' - but mostly it's a fascinating read and reveals much about the effective birth of the modern (ie post war) American ideal as well as the nature of imperialism in Mexico and the relationship between art and politics.

I loved it and recommend it highly. It's a mark of great credit that the fictional characters are as interesting as the real ones - particularly given the cast of Rivera, Kahlo, Trotsky et al.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully quirky masterpiece, 10 Oct 2011
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Hardcover)
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A marvellous, readable, thought-provoking novel - one of my very favourite reads of recent years. I think it must be difficult to be the author of a runaway success (in this case The Poisonwood Bible) because so many of your readers will always be comparing your latest novel to the one they first read and loved. The pressure's really on! I loved The Poisonwood Bible but I do think The Lacuna is a very different novel. I felt it was more literary and also more subtle - perhaps slightly less easy to get into, but more rewarding in the end.

The novel follows Harrison Shepherd through the diaries he writes, which tell the story of his life experiences from Mexico to North America, running from the 1930s through to the 1950s. He works as a cook and odd-job boy in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo - who encourage him to become a writer. He ends up caught in a web of political conspiracy and is persecuted in America for his involvement with communism.

I found the balance of the personal and the political absolutely fascinating. I knew little about the background before reading this novel and ended up reading a lot around it. I liked also the beautiful way Kingsolver plays with the idea of journal-keeping, story-telling and the divide between what is private and what is public. So I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book, which I think shows both the beautiful writing style and also perhaps the quirkiness of the novel generally:

'This afternoon she discovered my birth date had just passed. She is filing old documents, the birth certificate applications and so forth, now that the flurry of typing is done. She seemed hurt. "A man turns thirty years, that's important," she scolded, "and to think I sat here and knew nought of it, all the day long." I didn't say what Frida would have. That you can't really know the person standing before you, because always there is some missing piece: the birthday like an invisible piñata hanging great and silent over his head, as he stands in his slippers boiling the water for coffee. The scarred, shrunken leg hidden under a green silk dress. A wife and son back in France. Something you never knew. That is the heart of the story.'
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chasm of outrage, 24 May 2014
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Kindle Edition)
A long haul of a book, but pushing on down the tracks. Kingsolver writes in the novel that 'life goes forward as an exchange of pleasantries on a narrow bridge that hangs above the chasm of outrage.' She plumbs the depths of that outrage so many Americans in the 50s must have felt at the peddlers of HUAC 'justice' and links it with the polio epidemic raging through the States at the time, the one annihilating minds, the other bodies. The colour and richness of the Mexico period has to be absorbed slowly, like a Friday Kahlo painting, and the scenes with 'Lev' Trotsky are potent. How I'd love to meet this great writer one day, dive into the blue Lacuna of her mind and come through refreshed and changed, like Harrison Shepherd.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rewarding read requiring a little patience., 4 Aug 2010
By 
dannunzio19 (st albans, england) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Lacuna (Paperback)
Barbara Kingsolver's novel, which comes in at 700 pages, is slow to reveal its brilliance but well worth the perseverance. Unlike others I initially warmed to the novel but after the first 50 pages the novel meanders a little and had I not been on holiday, and therefore been able to push through the next 100 pages in a sitting, I am not sure I would have stuck with it. However, the lesson here is obvious. Rather like Ian McEwen's Atonement the relevance of the early story comes to the fore later and is done so adroitly. There are several themes and story threads in this book, which having been pointed out by several others I won't repeat, but they are maintained very skillfully and bought together in a wonderful climax. The other comparison that sprung to mind was the Godfather part II - as the story changes from one aspect to another there is a sadness to leave that focus but very quickly you are drawn into the new one and this is surely the sign of an author in command of her audience. Thorughly recommended as a beach read but also as a meditation on the misuse of political power across time and place and people's complicity in that.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great, must read, literary and fictional treat., 30 Jan 2011
By 
Angus Jenkinson "angusjenkinson" (Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Hardcover)
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I thought The Lacuna was a stronger book than The Poisonwood Bible. A boy grows up in offbeat style hitched to his mother who hitches herself to wealthy men in Mexico. He picks up a love of literature and writing, deep skills in cooking and a love of exploring underwater, during which he travels through an underwater tunnel into a far cave, the first lacuna of the book. Without spoiling the story it has an important role to play.

As a young man, he connects to Mexico's artworld by becoming the cook to Diego Rivera and lover of Frida Kahlo. From this he becomes personal secretary to the exiled Communist leader, Trotsky and his present at his assassination. He travels incognito to the United States, where he was born and where his father still lives, and becomes a successful writer with a loyal secretary of his own until the anti-Communist witch hunts that degraded America begin.

So much for the bones of the plot, but it has a deep sensual elegance in form and writing: something of the world of cuisine enters into the design and language, perhaps. And it has richly imagined and characterised protagonists, both fictional and from the world of fact. This interleaving of real and imagined is very successful, I think, although each person feels as real as the others. Wonderful writing, description, characterisation, coming-of-age, rich loving, tragedy, a moving narrative: all of these would be enough to make it a highly successful novel.

But The Lacuna is more than just a novel, it is a searing indictment in the tradition of The Grapes of Wrath of a disgraceful period in American history in which the universal comes to life in the individual. The lacuna, the emptiness, the hole, the gap in the world, is a lacuna in the moral history of America when the spirit of freedom and discovery that made it the exciting place in the emerging modern world was bankrupted by fear and the abuse that fear breeds. When the wounds of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo jails are still fresh with us, it's a timely reminder of how tyranny can sneak up on you.

Barbara Kingsolver's great achievement is to deliver this with such delicacy, carried on the wings of nurtured hope and of mournful loss of opportunity in a young life. By the same token, her conclusion suggests that hope is not easy to conquer. What has been lost can be found.

A great, must read, literary and fictional treat that packs a social punch.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another positive review about this book, 16 Oct 2011
By 
A. J. Kubicki "Carol" (Lancashire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Paperback)
I don't think I can add much to the many reviews of this book, but my experience of the novel was very positive. The characters engaged me, I found the format of the novel easy to follow and I enjoy her style of writing, her wit and her observations. There are so many little nuggets and scenes from this novel that remain with me; Trotsky with his hens, the mural painting, the boat trip, his office and his meetings with his solicitor in shabby bars and many more all stand out.
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55 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Lacuna: Warm, witty and painful..., 17 Mar 2010
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Hardcover)
Since I read Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favourite writers, and I was not disappointed with her latest effort. Almost entirely written in diary and letter form, it is a private and intimate look at the life of Harrison Sheperd, a half American, half Mexican writer. Most of it is from his own perspective, starting as a young boy and covering the span of his adult life.

It is remarkable because of how reality meets fiction in the cast of people he spends his young life in Mexico with - Painter Frida Kahlo and the exiled potential successor of Lenin, Leon Trotsky. We are given a privileged view of both character's lives, Frida's affairs and health problems, Trotsky's life in exile, and, ultimately, his assassination. In this, the book is unique and extremely interesting. These historical figures take on colourful personalities and depth, and whilst they might be a little romanticised, it never gets too close to trite for comfort.

One criticism I do have is consistency, as the book reads like two separate stories: Before and after the assassination. Sheperd has to leave Mexico after the assassination and book takes on a much slower pace - the story concerns itself with other matters, like the anti-communist hysteria in North America after WW2, civil liberties and gay rights. The colourful characters and the buzzing atmosphere of Mexico was suddenly replaced with stark loneliness in clinical US suburbia. I found this part of the book much less engaging and far too detailed. This section could easily be 100 pages shorter without detracting from the book, and I admit I struggled to work up the enthusiasm to finish it.

Having said that, it is, without a doubt, a beautifully written book based on some unique ideas and with some important messages. It is painful, warm, clever and witty, and the voice of Harrison Sheperd is mature and filled with emotion. His relationship with his stenographer Violet Brown is touching and sweet, and the character in herself is utterly unique and sometimes hilarious.
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70 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but flawed, 19 Nov 2009
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Hardcover)
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`In the beginning were the howlers. In the first hour of dawn they begin their maroon-throated bellows, just as the hem of the sky begins to whiten.'

The novel opens in Isla Pixol, Mexico, in 1929. `The boy and his mother' have moved there on his mother's promise that they will be living a storybook life - but we are told that the story book is the Prisoner of Zenda, not a happy story.

The opening chapter is fascinating. As a reader I relaxed; the narrative is in the hands of a master storyteller. And then? After just one chapter there is the archivist's note. Harrison William Shepherd left just these pages as the start of his memoir. The rest of the narrative will be pieced together by `VB' from diaries and letters.

Of course Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favourite writers, does this well. This novel is always engrossing and well written. The Poisonwood Bible is Kingsolver's masterpiece; after ten years here is a novel on the same grand scale but unfortunately not as successful. Its subject matter covers Frieda Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera `The Painter', the death of Leon Trotsky, the McCarthy era in `50s USA. Oh yes, and the writer is only thirty or so when he dies after being dear friend of one, apprentice to another, secretary to the third. A bit much.

Look, it's Barbara Kingsolver, so of course you should read it and you will enjoy it.. but I can't help feeling that there is more than one novel here. Structurally, the parts that are woven together from old newspapers, journals etc, real and imagined are ok and this is a gripping read - so much better than most novels you will be seeing this year. But this isn't the Barbara Kingsolver I have adored since The Bean Trees and have been in awe of since The Poisonwood Bible. I was engrossed and found myself thinking about the novel a great deal when I wasn't actually reading it despite its structural flaws. I read it in a concentrated way so perhaps these were more apparent. I then waited about three weeks before writing this review because I just didn't want to admit that this isn't the masterpiece I hoped we were going to get. And sadly, I think this would have been a better book with less. The subject matter is fascinating but after the opening Harrison William Shepherd fails to convince as a character.

The title is La Lacuna, the gap. This book, despite many delights, doesn't quite fill it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!, 21 Oct 2011
By 
Aspiring Bookworm (South Gloucestershire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Lacuna (Paperback)
A book that deals with resilience and chance, inequality and the effects of changes in politics. A history lesson in the journey of an young boy, who took the chances offered him and made good only to be persecuted for his success by, ironically, a political movement. A very good read.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, engaging book., 30 Aug 2010
By 
M. C. Holliman (Durham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lacuna (Paperback)
Now this is what a call a good read; a beautifully structured slow burner with a faboulously controlled mounting of tension and a satisfying ending. The characters were engaging and Kingsolver skillfully builds her fiction around the historical reality of the 1930s and '40s, even bringing a young Richard Nixon in for a walk-on part.
This book has depth and beauty, with recurring themes and images which are subtle but effective.
I condemn the reviewers here who have rated it low without even having the stamina to finish the book first.
It is not a lightweight, but it lifts, soars and flies if you give it a chance.
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The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (Paperback - 11 April 2013)
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