Somehow, this novel did not come up on my radar until now, even though it came out last fall; I guess I have been doing too good a job of staying out of bookstores! I've enjoyed all of Barbara Kingsolver's past novels (except, strangely, I never could get into The Poisonwood Bible - I keep thinking I should try it again) and couldn't wait to bury myself in The Lacuna.
Harrison Shepherd is a child of both Mexico and the United States. Born at the turn of the 20th century, he grows up partly in Washington DC and mostly in Mexico, learns to cook, becomes an assistant to the famous painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and eventually to Trotsky, who takes refuge in Rivera's household when exiled from Stalinist Russia. Shepherd grows up with a compulsion to write and this novel is a neat mixture of diaries, letters and news articles written by or about Shepherd as he eventually becomes a famous novelist living in North Carolina. The Lacuna is filled with symbolism and political commentary, and gave me some insight into the ideological struggles that took place in the first half of the 20th century in North America.
Like many of Kingsolver's novels, this book is beautifully written and has an epic feel to it. As Shepherd witnesses history and culture, so do we, the readers - there's a great deal of rich detail to help us feel what it was like to live in the times and places she chose to set the novel. The descriptions of Mexico and its people were so vivid that I wanted to jump on a plane and go there to be part of this colourful place, although I've never before had any interest in visiting the country. Harrison Shepherd himself wasn't a particularly memorable character - I found him somewhat bland - and yet somehow this worked really well for me because he is a writer and the story is told mostly through his personal writing about what he sees, hears and feels. In a way I think if he had been too flamboyant of a character the novel wouldn't have worked as well.
As you can probably tell, I enjoyed this book quite a bit and I have a feeling it's going to stay with me for a while yet - there's still so much to think about and mull over.