Late Summer Book Review

The plus side of my rainy Cape Cod trip was that I had plenty of time for reading.  I finished two of the books that I brought with me (the one I won’t write about today is Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which I thought was good but not great).  This was the one I liked better:

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

As a former English major, I always have trouble naming favorite books or authors– just too many to choose from.  But Kingsolver has been high on my list since high school, when my mom first introduced me to The Bean Trees and got me hooked on any and everything that this woman writes.  And she’s written a lot: novels, short stories, essays, poetry, even a nonfiction book  about her family’s year of eating locally, the excellent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  All of this to say, I guess, that if you haven’t yet read anything by her, I recommend it all highly.

The Lacuna, which came out last fall, is her latest, and her first novel in almost a decade.  It is long, dense, and complicated, but also very engaging.  The book follows the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of an American father and Mexican mother, who shuttles back and forth between his two countries of origin throughout the action of the novel.  Most of the book consists of journals kept by Harrison, and tracks his life from age 12 onward.  Along the way, Harrison spends several years living in the home of Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, including during the period when the exiled Russian Communist Leon Trotsky was staying with them.

Though obviously fictionalized, the book offers an insightful look at the fascinating lives of Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky, as observed by perpetual-outsider Harrison.  He makes for a rather odd protagonist, soft-spoken and quiet, generally less interesting than the vivid figures around him–  but as a careful observer, Harrison is able to capture a whole range of events, conversations, people, and scenery (and food– Harrison’s childhood stint as helper to a cook in Isla Pixol included such tantalizing descriptions of meals that it left me craving Mexican food for days).  Kingsolver deftly mixes the historical with the invented, offering at times a fresh perspective on well-known people and events.  At 500+ pages, and spanning several decades and countries, The Lacuna clearly isn’t a quick beach read.  But though the pace varies somewhat, it mostly moves along quite quickly, and I enjoyed the novel very much.  I wouldn’t say this was my favorite of Kingsolver’s impressive ouvre, but it was beautifully written and certainly worth the read.

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