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The Lacuna

by Barbara Kingsolver - £8.99  Faber and Faber (2010)
paperback    ISBN 13: 9780571252671 | ISBN 10: 0571252672

The Lacuna is the story of a man’s search for safety in the grinding jaws of two nations, at a moment when the entire world seemed bent on reinventing itself at any cost.
 
Born in the US, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is mostly a liability to his social-climbing flapper mother, Salomé. From a coastal island jungle to the unpaved neighbourhoods of 1930s Mexico City, through a disastrous stint at a military school in Virginia and back again, his fortunes never steady as Salomé finds her rich men-friends always on the losing side of the Mexican Revolution. Sometimes she gives her son cigarettes instead of supper.
 
He aims for invisibility, observing his world and recording everything with a peculiar selfless irony in his notebooks. Life is whatever he learns from servants putting him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Making himself useful in the household of the muralist, his wife Frida Kahlo, and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky, young Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, and the howling gossip and reportage that dictate public opinion.
 
A violent upheaval sends him north to a nation newly caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. In the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina, he remakes himself in America’s hopeful image. Under the watch of his peerless stenographer, Violet Brown, he finds an extraordinary use for his talents of observation. But political winds continue to push him between north and south, in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach - the lacuna - between truth and public presumption.
 
This is a gripping story of identity, connection with our past, and the power of words to create or devastate. Like no other novel yet written, it illuminates an era when bold internationalism gave way to a post-war landscape of narrowly defined ‘Americanism’. Crossing two decades, from the vibrant revolutionary murals of Mexico City to the halls of a Congress bent on eradicating the colour red, The Lacuna is as deep and rich as the New World itself.

(Price & availability last checked: November 2018)

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In booklists: Writers by Surname - K, World Fiction - Mexico, Historical Fiction, World Fiction - USA,
In categories: Fiction, World - Latin America & Caribbean, History & Biography, World - North America,

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