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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: The Lacuna

January 27, 2010

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council

This is the second Barbara Kingsolver book I’ve reviewed in the last six months, and I’m sure it won’t be my last (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is still on my list to read). As in Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver has created a whole new set of wonderful characters that stay with you long after you close The Lacuna.

The fictional book is narrated by Harrison Shepard (post-mortem, according to an archivist’s note), using journal entries and letters that span his life, starting in 1929 with his young teenage years in Mexico (but he lived in Washington D.C. for most of his childhood), and ending with—well I’m not sure, I’m only ¾ of the way through. But I’ve followed the young aspiring novelist’s career through servanthood at the Mexican home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as a secretary for their friend Lev Trotsky, the doomed and idealistic Russian revolutionary, and now, to Asheville, N.C., where his first book has just been published and WWII is coming to an end.

The Lacuna is fascinating—from its inclusion of actual N.Y. Times articles describing Japanese American internment camps, to Kingsolver’s amazing ability to craft a beautiful sentence that I just want to read over, and over, and over.

Given that Food for Thought is in full swing, it’s also worth noting that food is central to the plot—as a young boy Harrison learns to cook, which lands him the job with Diego as a plaster-preparer, and later as their household cook where he prepares dishes for lavish parties. It’s over tamales that Frida and Harrison first become friends, and it’s during weekly shopping trips to the market in Washington D.C. that Harrison first falls in love.

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