Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Read it. It's good. I love me some historical fiction, and Ms. Kingsolver does it up right. Actually, she does everything up right - The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorites, The Bean Trees is awesome, I've already told you what I think about Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, and The Lacuna is another great read. Fair warning - it starts slow, but trust me; it's well worth hanging in there.

In this novel, Kingsolver has crafted a story that expertly weaves her protagonist into the tapestry of history. The book is primarily made up of the journal entries of the fictional Harrison William Shephard, and his is a diary that you want to read. Half-Mexican and half-American, Shephard is a man who is torn between two identities in more ways than one. He spends much of his early life in Mexico and soon finds himself an integral part of the lives of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and their guest, Leon Trotsky. Of the course of his time in the Rivera-Kahlo home, Shephard serves as Diego's cook, Frida's confidant, and Trotsky's amanuensis*, all while harboring a secret passion for writing.  Upon his return to the United States, his relationships with Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky raise the suspicion of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Mr. Shephard finds that the quiet writer's life he had imagined for himself is not to be.

Interspersed among Shephard's journal entries are newspaper clippings, real stories from the New York Times as well as fictional articles from Shephard's hometown paper. I found these particularly fascinating, and I couldn't help but notice a similarity between the rhetoric surrounding Japanese Americans during WWII and some of the language used to talk about Muslim Americans today. But that is another post altogether...

In any event, I loved this book because Kingsolver has a gift for language that makes me equal parts blissful (it's such a joy to read) and despondent (I could try for a million years and never write anything as lovely), because I really cared for the characters (fictional and otherwise), and because I learned a lot (I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea that there were attacks on U.S. soil during World War II). See - Ms. Kingsolver would never abuse parentheses like that. Sad face.  Lastly, I loved this book because it is rich with food for thought. 


"The radio is at the root of the evil, their rule is: No silence, ever. When anything happens, the commentator has to speak without a moment’s pause for gathering wisdom. Falsehood and inanity are preferable to silence. You can’t imagine the effect of this. The talkers are rising above the thinkers. "

"Mr. Shepherd, ye cannot stop a bad thought from coming into your head. But ye need not pull up a chair and bide it sit down."

“…[people] want to believe in heroes… And villains. Especially when very frightened. It’s less taxing than the truth.”

"You know what the issue is? Do you want to know? It's what these guys have decided to call America. They have the audacity to say, 'There, you sons of bitches, don't lay a finger on it. That is a finished product. But any country is still in the making. Always. That's just history, people have to see that."

… nothing wondrous can come in this world unless it rests on the shoulders of kindness

You’ve never seen anything as dramatic as these American trees, dying their thousand deaths. The giant beech next door intends to shiver off ever hair of its pelt. The world strips and goes naked, the full year of arboreal effort piling on the sidewalks in flat, damp strata. The earth smells of smoke and rainstorms, calling everything to come back, lie down, submit to a quiet, moldy return to the cradle of origins.

Does a man become a revolutionary out of the belief he's entitled to joy rather than submission?

The past is all we know of the future.

New vocabulary:

lacuna - 1. An unfilled space or interval; a gap  2. A missing portion in a book or manuscript.  
perfidy – deceitfulness, untruthfulness
haint - Southern colloquialism - ghost, apparition, lost soul
*amanuensis - one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript
sigmoidal – S-shaped
sloe-eyed - having soft dark bluish or purplish black eyes (sloe refers to the tart bluish black        globe-shaped fruit of the blackthorn)
bairn - a child
cenote - a deep sinkhole in limestone with a pool at the bottom that is found especially in Yucatán


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