Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Published: 2009 Harper
Read For: Monday Night Book Club
Chosen by: Shelley, April-May 2010
My Rating: 4.75 stars (out of 5)
Years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible with my book club and loved it, and although that is the only book of Barbara Kingsolver's that I'd read until this year, I was excited when her new novel was chosen for our April/May book. Barbara Kingsolver is an amazing writer. Even when the summary of the book doesn't sound enticing to me, even when I'm not hooked until halfway through the book, even when the characters aren't people I can identify with, I am won over by the time the novel is through.
It may start out with a simple statement that strikes my fancy: (from p. 17) His mother had let him carry two valises: one for books, one for clothes. The clothes were a waste, outgrown instantly. He should have filled both with books.
It may be the way words are put together that catch my notice: (from p. 53) Luckily the Spaniards wrote buckets about the Azteca civilization before they blew it to buttons and used its stones for their churches.
It may be a statement one of the characters makes that makes me stop and reflect: (from p. 197) A story is like a painting, Soli. It doesn't have to look like what you see out the window.
It may be the theme that starts with the title and is carried throughout the story: (from p. 218) The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know.
The Lacuna is the story of Harrison Shepherd, who was born in America to an American father and moved to Mexico with his Mexican mother, and is trying to find his place in the world. Like any person you meet, you get to know Harrison a little at a time, in bits and pieces. With him you get to meet Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and through them Lev Trotsky--the leader of the Bolshevik rebellion--and experience the McCarthy hearings. Harrison is not entirely Mexican, nor entirely American. He is understood by neither his mother nor his father, yet he finds a place to belong, a way to survive regardless of where he is.
While the book isn't gripping until around the midpoint (for me) it isn't boring or difficult to read either. It is a book to be read for its language and message, for the journey the characters make and the palpable descriptions. Not to be read in a hurry, but when you can spend some time seeing the colors and smelling the smells that will fill the room and linger on in your mind if you give them the chance.
A lovely bit from p. 393:
In the afternoon when the sun lights the stucco buildings across the street, its possible to count a dozen different colors of paint, all fading together on the highest parts of the wall: yellow, ochre, brick, blood, cobalt, turquoise. The national color of Mexico. And the scent of Mexico is a similar blend: jasmine, dog piss, cilantro, lime. Mexico admits you through an arched stone orifice into the tree-filled courtyard of its heart, where a dog pisses against a wall and a waiter hustles through a curtain of jasmine to bring a bowl of tortilla soup, steaming with cilantro and lime. Cats stalk lizards among the clay pots around the fountain, doves settle into the flowering vines and coo their prayers, thankful for the existence of lizards. The potted plants silently exhale, outgrowing their clay pots. Like Mexico's children they stand pinched and patient in last year's too-small shoes. The pebble thrown into the canyon bumps and tumbles downhill.