The Lacuna: A Novel

By Barbara Kingsolver
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Harper, (11/1/2009)
Language:English



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In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put 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. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.

Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach—the lacuna—between truth and public presumption.

With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.

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Harriet's thoughts on "The Lacuna: A Novel"
updated on:7/30/2012



DEFINITELY Unleash it


"The Lacuna: A Novel"
By Barbara Kingsolver

Average Rating:
DEFINITELY Unleash it
5.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. The word "lacuna" means many things: a missing piece of a manuscript, a gap in history or knowledge, a tunnel or passage leading from one place to another. What are some of the lacunae in this novel?

2. Several characters repeat the phrase: "The most important part of a story is the piece of it you don't know." What does this mean to you, in terms of both public and private life? Are you likely to give this consideration more weight, since reading the novel?

3. Given the unusual presentation of the novel, as diary entries written by a person who does not want to be known, how did you come to know Harrison Shepherd? Which of his passions or dreads evoked a connection for you?

4. The opening paragraph of the novel promises: "In the beginning were the howlers," and suggests they will always be with us. As you read, did you find yourself thinking of modern occasions of media "howlers" purveying gossip, fear, and injurious misquotes? Why does this industry persist? Has an increasingly rapid news cycle changed its power?

5. Why do you think Kingsolver used articles from real news sources along with fictional ones in the novel?

6. Did any historical revelations in this novel surprise you? How has our national character changed from earlier times? How would we now respond, for example, to the universal rationing imposed during World War II? Or to the later events aimed at containing "un-American activities?" What elements shape these responses? What is the value, in your opinion, of the historical novel as a genre?

7. What places or sensory events in the novel appealed to you most? Are you a more visual, auditory, or olfactory sort of person? What sensory impressions stayed with you after you had finished the book?

8. The two important women in Harrison Shepherd's life, Violet Brown and Frida Kahlo, seem to be opposites at first glance. Do they also share similarities? What cemented the relationships, in each case? Do you find these women, in their similar or opposing ways, emblematic of women's modes of adapting to difficulty, or exerting power?

9. Why would a friend as prudent as Mrs. Brown disregard the last wishes of someone to whom she was so loyal? Were her actions believable? Were they moral? What do you think of Shepherd's final characterization of their relationship as "a great love?"

10. On page 424, Arthur Gold complains that patriotism is coming to be defined as intolerance of dissent, and that the consequences could be dangerous. What do you think of his diagnosis? How do you interpret his advice that anti-communism has nothing to do with communism?

11. In Shepherd's testimony before the HUAC, he said that people in Mexico seemed to have more art than they had hopes, but here he'd found people "bursting with hope but not many songs . . . So I decided to try my hand at making art for the hopeful. Because I wasn't any good at the other thing, manufacturing hopes for the artful. America was the most hopeful place I'd ever imagined." Given his culturally mixed heritage and disorienting childhood, what do you think appealed to him about becoming a writer in the U.S.? Do you consider it a hopeful place?

12. Do you believe the novel ended with optimism, or sadness?


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"The novel achieves a rare dramatic power...Kingsolver masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist." (Publishers Weekly (starred review) )

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Barbara Kingsolver's twelve books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction include the novels The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. Translated into nineteen languages, her work has won a devoted worldwide readership and many awards, including the National Humanities Medal. Her most recent book is the highly praised, New York Times bestselling Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, published in May 2007. She lives with her family on a farm in southwestern Virginia.


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