AS I SEE IT
By Henri Loridans
A Review of THE LACUNA
By Barbara Kingsolver
(Harper Collins 2009)
Barbara Kingsolver weaves her historical novel around the fictitious Harrison Shepherd, son of an American father and a Mexican mother. The historical characters he encounters range from Douglas McArthur, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky and end with J. Edgar Hoover. I found many of the facts presented by the author quite surprising. Did John Dewey really come to Mexico to conduct a hearing to determine Trotsky’s guilt? Did the US cuddle up to Stalin in the years prior to WW2? My research found the author did not fictionalize history.
The story begins in 1929 on Isla Pixol, a tropical island off the coast of Mexico. Harrison is 13 years old, and as is characteristic of many Latin American novels, the reader is never sure what is real and what mystical. Young Harrison is shaped by conflicts with his mother who will exchange anything she has for material gain; and, by the indigenous natives on the island. We meet Diego and Frida when Harrison goes to Mexico City and finds work mixing mortar for Diego’s murals and ends up on the household staff. Most readers have some knowledge of the tumultuous relationship between Diego and Frida, but Kingsolver lets you live it with them. Most of us also know that Trotsky was murdered in Mexico City. LACUNA paints a vivid picture and gives the international ramifications.
The historical events Kingsolver describes are well researched. She breathes life into both the characters she creates, and those who actually lived and played their parts on the world scene. The reader can feel the pain suffered by victims of the “isms” prevalent in the United States in mid-twentieth century. The author can also be iconoclastic. She describes the ideal employee as “Does not smoke cigarettes, take strong drink, go to church or gamble.”
LACUNA is 507 pages of entertaining and informative reading. It contains many surprises that slip up on the blind side of the reader. One of Kingsolver’s best and it can be found in the Lake Chapala Society library.