Barbara Kingsolver heads to Mexico in her latest work, THE LACUNA. The story follows Harrison William Shepherd, the son of an American bureaucrat father and Mexican mother. When his parents divorce, Shepherd's mother takes him to Mexico where he spends the formative years of his life struggling to find his place in the world as a gay man and aspiring writer. Shepherd spends the 1930s as an assistant to such illustrious figures as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky. The latter half of the book focuses on his return to America and life as a writer during the 1940s and 1950s when he comes under scrutiny as a possible Communist sympathizer. The story is told through journals, letters and the occasional news clipping.
There is always something wonderfully about stories told through journals and letters. You feel as if you are doing something illicit such as riffling through a person's personal effects and papers. It feels intimate. Kingsolver employs this method effectively. The reader really gets to know and understand Shepherd and sees the events of this period of history from a very personal perspective. For some reason, however, the earlier part of the novel set in Mexico fell flat for me. The historical figures overshadowed and distracted from Shepherd's story. It wasn't until he moves to the United States and actually becomes a published writer that the story really took off for me. It became much more personal. The character of his assitant, Violet Brown, was also a charming addition to the story. This whole period of time when so many individuals were being accused of Communist ties really came alive for me.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. Although the first part of the story felt flat and uninspired to me, the second half really made up for it. The reader is caught up in history in a very personal way. Kingsolver fans should be pleased with this one.