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The Lacuna | 2009

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.

Critics' Praise

“Every few years, you read a book that makes everything else in life seem unimportant. The Lacuna is the first book in a long time that made me swap my bike for public transport, just so I could keep reading.”
— THE INDEPENDENT (UK)
 
“Breathtaking...dazzling...The Lacuna can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people; or for its harmonious choir of voices. But the fuller value of Kingsolver’s novel lies in its call to conscience and connection. She has mined Shepherd’s richly imagined history to create a tableau vivant of epochs and people that time has transformed almost past recognition. Yet it’s a tableau vivant whose story line resonates in the present day... Kingsolver gives voice to truths whose teller could express them only in silence.” 
— NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“Employed by the American imagination, is how one character describes Harrison, a term that could apply equally to Kingsolver as she masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist.” 
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Kingsolver's exploration (through all five senses) of Mexican and American geographies, weather, people, food, cultures, politics, languages and era-bound events—Hoover through World War II, Truman, Nagasaki—is masterful, and a reader receives the great gift of entering not one but several worlds.”
— THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“The novel is a brilliant mix of truth and fiction, history and imagination … [making] for a compelling and utterly believable read.”
—BOOKPAGE

“As in The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver perfects the use of multiple points of view ... This is her most ambitious, timely, and powerful novel yet.”
— LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Before reading [The Lacuna], I would have sworn that 1998's The Poisonwood Bible was her masterpiece, not to be surpassed; it was as close to a truly perfect book as I've ever read. This one's even closer to that lofty goal.”
— DALLAS MORNING NEWS

“Kingsolver's seventh work of fiction is hopeful, political and artistic. The Lacuna fills a lacuna with powerfully imagined social history.”
— CHICAGO TRIBUNE