Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mini-Review: "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver burst upon the literary scene with her bestselling "The Poisonwood Bible." That novel told a tawdry tale of missionary zeal run amok. "The Lacuna" is her long-awaited first novel in nine years. It is well worth the wait. Using dual narrative voices - a young male protagonist and his female amanuensis - Kingsolver weaves a saga that travels between Mexico and the United States. Harrison William Shepherd is a young man and aspiring writer who is trapped between two worlds - caught in a series of "lacunae" or empty spaces fashioned from his peculiar lineage as the son of an American father and Mexican mother.

A literal lacuna that leads to a cove hidden with a coral reef on the Yucatan shore stands as a metaphor for the many relational lacunae that serve as potholes in the bumpy road that is Sheperd path in life. As he matures and interacts with a fascinating variety of colorful men and women, he wrestles with his identity and destiny. Lev Trotsky in exile in Mexico appears on the scene, and impacts the arc of Shepherd's life. Years later, that encounter with the Russian revolutionary eventually causes the writer to run afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism at its most virulent.

Kingsolver, in her inimitable style, exposes the excesses of Anti-communism in Joe McCarthy's America in much the same way that she revealed the ugly underbelly of ill-conceived missionary activity in Africa. She offers her expose, not by preaching at the readers, but by leading them through the series of lacunae - the negative spaces - that define Shepherd's journey through life on both sides of the Rio Grande.

I loved this book, and will be recommending it to many friends.



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