We are proud to announce that BookBrowse has won Platinum in the 2024 Modern Library Awards.

Reviews of The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna

A Novel

by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver X
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Nov 2009, 528 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 544 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Part I
Mexico, 1929 - 1931

Isla Pixol, Mexico, 1929
In the beginning were the howlers. They always commenced their bellowing in the first hour of dawn, just as the hem of the sky began to whiten. It would start with just one: his forced, rhythmic groaning, like a saw blade. That aroused others near him, nudging them to bawl along with his monstrous tune. Soon the maroon-throated howls would echo back from other trees, farther down the beach, until the whole jungle filled with roaring trees. As it was in the beginning, so it is every morning of the world.

The boy and his mother believed it was saucer-eyed devils screaming in those trees, fighting over the territorial right to consume human flesh. The first year after moving to Mexico to stay at Enrique’s house, they woke up terrified at every day’s dawn to the howling. Sometimes she ran down the tiled hallway to her son’s bedroom, appearing in the doorway with her hair loose, her feet like iced ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
Introduction

In this powerfully imagined, provocative novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is the poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as well as an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself.

Questions for Discussion
  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 ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!
  • award image

    Women's Prize for Fiction
    2010

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I have read every novel by Barbara Kingsolver and I love them all. Her writing is literary, lyrical and relevant - but that's not the reason for my deep affection. It's because she is a woman of heart and mind who is unafraid of using her mind to reveal her heart. [This] story moved me to laughter, outrage, anxiety, but mostly to tears. It is overall a very sad tale. When I closed the book, I simply could not move...continued

Full Review (536 words)

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Judy Krueger).

Media Reviews

The Los Angeles Times
After some lyrical but unconvincing early scenes, the first half of the novel builds to page-turning tension... But there is no enigma. The good guys wear white hats, the villains black. This book grabs at the heartstrings, and you would give it to a 13-year-old without hesitation... except for that nagging problem of historical truth.

NPR - Maureen Corrigan
Harrison is so pallid, so retiring that it's very hard to stay for extended periods in his company, and seeing history unfold from his wan point of view isn't all that illuminating... To me, The Lacuna is an all too appropriate title for a novel that feels altogether vacant.

The Independent (UK)
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.

Library Journal
As in The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver perfects the use of multiple points of view ... This is her most ambitious, timely, and powerful novel yet. Well worth the wait.

Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)
Starred Review. [Kingsolver] masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist.

Booklist
...the novel can be slow going, but the final section ... builds to a stunningly moving coda...

Kirkus Reviews
A richly satisfying portrait of Mexico gives way to a preachy, padded and predictable chronicle of Red Scare America.

Reader Reviews

Dorothy T.

Nothing is missing here
Barbara Kingsolver is an amazing author. If you liked "The Poisonwood Bible" you will also want to read this new novel. It reads so much like truth you might be tempted to look up the main character Harrison Shepherd on the internet. I ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

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...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Lacuna, try these:

  • The Lincoln Highway jacket

    The Lincoln Highway

    by Amor Towles

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    Winner of the 2021 BookBrowse Fiction Award

    The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America.

  • Next Year in Havana jacket

    Next Year in Havana

    by Chanel Cleeton

    Published 2018

    About this book

    More by this author

    After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

We have 9 read-alikes for The Lacuna, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Barbara Kingsolver
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    The Curse of Pietro Houdini
    by Derek B. Miller
    Derek B. Miller's sixth novel, The Curse of Pietro Houdini, opens in the town of Cassino, Italy, in ...
  • Book Jacket: Our Moon
    Our Moon
    by Rebecca Boyle
    In Our Moon: How Earth's Celestial Companion Transformed the Planet, Guided Evolution, and Made Us ...
  • Book Jacket: Neighbors and Other Stories
    Neighbors and Other Stories
    by Diane Oliver
    The history of American segregation, along with changes to it in the 1960s, is sometimes taught and ...
  • Book Jacket: Wild and Distant Seas
    Wild and Distant Seas
    by Tara Karr Roberts
    Tara Karr Roberts is a newspaper columnist who also teaches English and journalism. Wild and Distant...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mockingbird Summer
by Lynda Rutledge
A powerful and emotional coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s by the bestselling author of West with Giraffes.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Strong Passions
    by Barbara Weisberg

    Shocking revelations of a wife's adultery in 19th New York explode in an incendiary trial exposing the upper-crust and its secrets.

  • Book Jacket

    Leaving
    by Roxana Robinson

    An engrossing exploration of the vows we make to one another and what we owe to others and ourselves.

Win This Book
Win The Cleaner

The Cleaner
by Brandi Wells

Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee."
PW (starred review)

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.