Rating: 4/5 stars
’The most important part of a story is the piece of it you don’t know.’
‘If God speaks for the man who keeps quiet..’ the protagonist, Harrison Shepherd, said those words, too, trailing off as he infrequently did.
’But the question stood everlasting at my shoulder: Was it mine to tell? The stenographer, Violet Brown, said those words, but beneath it all was Kingsolver, whose prose was often poetic; a ballad. Its smoothness was interrupted only by the consistent Spanish tongue and historical context. Epistolary in form, it was deeply moving, yet seemingly detached at others.
After a time, I was tempted to set aside this daunting tome. It challenged me in ways other than its length. Obviously, I persisted, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to a dear friend, whose words inadvertently encouraged me to keep going. Over the course of that journey, she embarked on an impromptu buddy read, and we discussed it via private messaging, and did so accordingly. I genuinely cherish this experience. Thank you, Brandi.
Shortly afterward, a peculiar development ensued. I gradually became fascinated with the huge presence of real-life Mexican artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Kingsolver’s portrayal of Frida was particularly searing and brilliant. The other characters were imbued with lives and backstories all their own, but Frida’s resonated in ways I can’t quite fathom.
Pretty much from the start, the history of the
Mexican people was evident, and the author kept it interesting, albeit in rather obscure ways. From the Teutonic gods and the conquests of Cortez, to the Mayan and Aztec cultures, and finally settling down in post-1950’s America (and virtually everything in between,) she never approached The Lacunafrom a pedagogical perspective. Rather, in ways reminiscent of post-modernist, Richard Powers, she wrote it in an approachable manner, not by eschewing history, but by allowing the casual references (of which there were plentiful,) to enrich the narrative; to inform these conflicting worlds. By kind of obscuring the Hispanic and American facts, it allowed her characters to shine. They were the primary focus.
Being half Hispanic, half “gringo,” and especially growing up in the 1920-30’s–a time of much change– things were never easy for Harrison Shepherd. Life never was, but the deck was stacked against him and his mother, Salome, in every conceivable way. That world was constantly in flux; forever evolving. As a result, their circumstances never got any easier.
“Young man, you make a point. Humanity has never succeeded in rationalizing its history. Much harm comes from leaders who insist that for every advance, someone else must slide backwards. The dictatorship of the Soviet Secretariat came about because of the backwardness and isolation of the country, for so long imposed on us by the tsar. We were accustomed to the rationalization of a despot. People accept what they have already known. When mankind is exhausted, he creates new enemies, new religions. Our best task is to move forward without seeking to do so.”
Ultimately, it was both sad and tragic. Turn by turn, it was hopeful. It is haunting.
‘I dread to do what I do now, commending a man’s life into the bleak passage to some other place, to be filled with light or darkness. This is my small raft. I know not what waits on the other side.’