The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a very compelling novel, although at first I was tempted to abandon it. But I stuck with it, and it became a book I couldn't put down. A lacuna is defined as a missing piece of text, a gap, an extended silence, and this novel is well-named. Harrison Shepherd is half Mexican, half American, and the son of divorced parents. His Mexican mother takes him to live in Mexico on a small island with her newest lover and while living there Shepherd discovers a lacuna, or gap in the sea cliff that leads to an underground well or cenote. Shepherd grows up feeling very much as though he himself is a lacuna. Caught between two diverse cultures, two indifferent parents, and ultimately very different world views, Shepherd never really feels whole. His story is told through his personal journals and letters, through the letters he writes to Frida Kahlo, through the papers he types for Trotsky, and through the letters and articles others write about him. Shepherd himself is a lacuna - much of his story is missing, and the people around him are left guessing his story, as is the reader at times! Shepherd's first job is as a plaster-mixer for muralist Diego Rivera, but soon his life becomes intertwined with Rivera and Frida Kahlo when he joins their staff as cook/driver/secretary. Through that relationship he becomes secretary to Trotsky until Trotsky is murdered. All throughout, Shepherd keeps minute records of his life and thoughts in finely detailed journals which disappear after Trotsky's murder. Shepherd returns to the US where he settles in Asheville, NC and discovers his voice as a best-selling novelist. And then the ugly head of McCarthyism raises and Shepherd is denounced. The original lacuna, the cave in the sea cliff, becomes important once more as the novel reaches its denouement.
This novel raises some tough questions about reality and perception, about how lies become truth. It's a tough read, but very much worthwhile.
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