Monday, May 24, 2010

Barbara Kingslover reads The Lacuna

I'm not yet half way through listening to Barbara Kingsolver read her latest novel (the first in ten years), The Lacuna, but it's such a big project that I wanted to do an intermediate post or two.

At first, I didn't care for Kingsolver's voice, but I've settled into it and I particularly like her Spanish-accented female characters--her older men, not so much.

Since I've started listening to the book, I've had to do a bit of research to discover which characters were historical and which fictional. One third of the way through it, I can confidently announce that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, along with Leon Trotsy (duh!) are historical and Harrison William Shepherd, the novel's protagonist, and his family are fictional. Not knowing very much about Mexico in the first half of the twentieth century and the format of the novel (i.e., excerpts from diaries, letters, and newspaper articles) made me wonder where history ended and story began, which is exactly Kingsolver's theme, thus far anyway.

As a side note, when I did research Kahlo and Diego, it was Kahlo's paintings that I recognized, although I didn't recognize her name as an artist.

I loved the description of life on Isla Pixol, the island where Shepherd lives with his crazy mother and the first of her sugar daddies during the first section of the book. I loved the description of the food and food preparation, in particular, and still feel the urge to make real Mexican food. If only Kingsolver had provided recipes in The Lacuna as she did in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

My jaw dropped, however, when I read the section in which Shepherd goes to school in Washington D.C. during the early years of the Depression and he visits the encampment of the Bonus Army and how Hoover and the government brutally dealt with them. Somehow this disgraceful event in U.S. history escaped my notice before, and Kingsolver did a masterful job in describing it and seamlessly integrating it into the fabric of the story.

I'm really impressed with Kingsolver's mastery in the book--the scope of the story, the development of the main character as he discovers himself, his talents, his place in history, the balance of historical fact with truthful fiction, and the strong voices that are always filtered by Shepherd yet are still distinct and believable.

As with most great books that I read, they inspire me to dig deeper into their subject matter. My reading list for 2010 is already too long to be completed, but I would love to read more about Mexico in the early twentieth century.


  1. glad to hear you are enjoying this so far. I started it at the beginning of the year but didnt get far before I needed to put it down to read something else. I was having a hard time getting into it but I do enjoy Kingsolver so I know I will go back to it!

  2. I enjoyed Kingsolver reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because it was her own story after all, but I'm not sure how I would feel about her reading her fiction. I love her writing, and can't wait to read this one.

  3. I love Kingsolver's books, but for some reason I haven't been motivated to read this one yet. I even checked it out from the library and kept it for a month and didn't start it. Maybe it's time to check it out again!

  4. I've been on the fence about this one but curiously no one mentioned how much real history was wrapped up in the story. Thanks for that--I'm in now!