Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Lacuna

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The Lacuna

A Novel

by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2009, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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Print Review

Trotsky in Mexico
Kingsolver's fictional protagonist, Harrison Shepherd, spends much of his life brushing up against the lives of real people, including the Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who played host to Leon Trotsky in the 1930s. Undoubtedly, you know of Trotsky, Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist, but did you know that he spent the last years of his life exiled in Mexico?

The story of his exile starts with the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924. Although Lenin had appointed Joseph Stalin General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party he had grown distrustful of him and had come to favor Trotsky as his successor, and had even written a letter to that effect. However, on Lenin's death, Stalin manouvered quickly to consolidate his power and Trotsky found himself on the back foot. Trotsky continued to battle for leadership as the de facto leader of the Left Opposition, a faction within the Communist Party, until he was expelled from the Party in 1927 and exiled from Russia two years later. Even though Trotsky opposed Stalin, he did not find a welcome in most European countries whose governments feared that he would become a rallying point for local communists. He was offered brief periods of asylum in Turkey, France and Norway; then, in 1936, Diego Rivera, a founder of the Mexican Communist Party and supporter of Trotsky's views, used his influence to help Trotsky gain permanent asylum in Mexico.



Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, lived in the Coyoacán area of Mexico City, first in Frida Kahlo's childhood home and then in the home of her husband, artist Diego Rivera. They then moved to their own home nearby, following a split with Rivera over ideological differences and rumors of Trotsky's affair with Kahlo. Their house was protected by guards behind high stone walls and steel doors scarred by bullet holes from an assassination attempt in 1940, headed by the painter Joseph Siqueiros.

While in exile Trotsky wrote and published My Life; The History of the Russian Revolution; and The Revolution Betrayed, all of which have been translated into English and are available in English paperback editions today.

On August 20, 1940, Trotsky was attacked in his home by Ramón Mercader, who sunk an Alpine climbing ax into his skull. Trotsky fought back and was taken to the hospital, but died the next day. Mercader, aka Jacques Mornard, was a Spanish communist later revealed to be a Soviet agent, suspected of acting on orders from Joseph Stalin.

"Life is not an easy matter ... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness."
- Leon Trotsky

Article by Judy Krueger

This article was originally published in November 2009, and has been updated for the August 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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