Book Review: The Lacuna

The Lacuna

Barbara Kingsolver

It is difficult to describe Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book. It is a complex story told through the assured words of a confident author. All I can do is urge you to read it – to read anything by Kingsolver. I started many years ago with her first book The Bean Tree. It was a warm, energetic page turner that made me keen to seek her other titles. Good authors do that. They make the reader an instant fan. There are few as consistent as Kingsolver. The Lacuna is superb for a whole lot of different reasons to Kingsolver’s other big hit, The Poisionwood Bible.

Rather than trying too hard to convince you, here are some excerpts from The Lacuna. With Kingsolver, you can lift a sentence or a paragraph from anywhere in the book and it sounds eminently interesting. The writing grabs your attention even if you don’t know the context.

“Survival, by itself, is not reason enough to rejoice. If life was a suit of clothes momentarily ripped away and put back on, the tearing has ruined it. Today seems harder than yesterday.”

Or, “The dancers were butterflies. From a hundred paces Salome could see the dirt under these girl’s fingernails, but not their wings.”

Kingsolver’s confident use of her writing skill to tell this rich, historical story set in the 1930s, is a gift for the reader. The main character, Harrison Shepherd, tells his account of life with his mother in Mexico and the United States. Shepherd’s notebooks cite observations that offer insights into the world of Frida Kahlo, and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky. The political winds shift and Shepherd is caught up in the violence of truth.

He is an observer of the world yet the book is ultimately about identity, connection with our past and the complex relationship of ourselves within history.

The word ‘lacuna’ means ‘gap’, which is a surprising title for a book so packed with characters and words that have to be re-read just because it feels good to let a sentence filter through your imagination – again. Here is one wisdom-packed sentence from The Lacuna, where Kahlo tells Shepherd: “The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don’t know.” Ponder that one.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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