The Lacuna

The Lacuna

3.77 (51,873 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

List price: US$26.99

Currently unavailable

Add to wishlist

AbeBooks may have this title (opens in new window).

Try AbeBooks


New York Times Bestseller

National Bestseller: Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle (#1), Chicago Tribune (#1), Denver Post (#1), Minneapolis Star-Tribune (#1), Publishers Weekly

Indie Next Bestseller (#1)

Best Book of the Year: New York Times Notable, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Kansas City Star

Prize-winning Author: National Humanities Medal, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Orange Prize for Fiction, Dayton Literary Peace Prize (Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award)

In The Lacuna, her first novel in nine years, Barbara Kingsolver, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, tells the story of Harrison William Shepherd, a man caught between two worlds--an unforgettable protagonist whose search for identity will take readers to the heart of the twentieth century's most tumultuous events.
show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 507 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 38.1mm | 861.82g
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • 0060852577
  • 9780060852573
  • 785,821

Back cover copy

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.
show more

Review quote

"The novel achieves a rare dramatic power...Kingsolver masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
show more

Rating details

51,873 ratings
3.77 out of 5 stars
5 29% (15,086)
4 36% (18,749)
3 22% (11,327)
2 9% (4,467)
1 4% (2,244)

Our customer reviews

Barbara Kingsolver has not published a novel in over nine years, but with her newest offering, The Lacuna, her fans will happily see that the wait was well worth it. She has written a cracker jack of a story, spanning the North American continent over thirty years, and covering American geography, politics and history in a way that only Kingsolver can. She adroitly exposes a time in our history of which no American can be proud, and looks provocatively at art and the artist from numerous angles. Harrison Shepherd was born in the United States to an American father and a Mexican mother in 1916. His mother left his father and returned to Mexico when Harrison was only thirteen, accompanied by a wealthy Mexican businessman. With the promise of a wealthy husband never being realized and a mother who provides no stable home for him, Harrison found himself helping out at the house of a famous painter, Diego Rivera, where he forged a life-long friendship with Mrs. Rivera, the fiery and independent artisan, Frida Kahlo. At one point his mother sent him back to Washington to live with his father, who promptly enrolled him in a boarding school. He finally returned to the Rivera household where he worked full time helping the artist and performing secretarial duties and it is there that he meets and works for Leon Trotsky, exiled Russian political leader, whom Harrison greatly admires. It is this relationship that will prove to be problematic for Harrison later in the story. The second half of the book tells about the time after Harrison left Mexico and lived in the U.S. and we meet the archivist who is telling the story, Harrison’s stenographer and good friend, Violet Brown (That name should not be lost on anyone after thinking about the famous painters featured in the book, known for their bold and colorful painting styles.). It is during this part of his life that Harrison realizes his dream of becoming a writer. The author definitely has a way with words. Consider the following, that occurred when Harrison first meets Violet’s “unusual” relatives and is questioned, rapid fire: “Many other questions stood in line after these, each patiently waiting its turn, each one finally spitting, rubbing its hands, and stepping up to position.” (Page 328) But the language is not the star here; it is the story and the development of the main character, Harrison Shepherd, that steals the show. When Harrison tries to explain why he stayed in the U.S. and didn’t return to Mexico to live he responded this way: “You asked me why I’ve stayed here so long. I can try to say. People have a lot of color and songs in Mexico, more art than they have hopes, it often seemed to me. Here, I found people bursting with hope but not many songs. They didn’t sing, they turned on the radio. They wanted stories, like anything. So I decided to try my hand at making art for the hopeful. Because I wasn’t any good at the other thing, manufacturing hopes for the artful. America was the most hopeful place I’d ever imagined.” (Page 489) It’s very difficult to discuss this book without giving too much away. There is so much of a story to tell, considering all the history that took place during this time period, and it all touches Harrison in one way or another and provides the background for his story: the rise of Stalin during and following WWII, WWII itself, Pearl Harbor, J. Edgar Hoover, FDR and the Congressional Committee of Un-American Activities investigations. Kingsolver has done a masterful job of presenting the story with her smooth writing style, and her use of multiple metaphors, the most important being the lacuna, the gap or place where something is missing. It turns up in so many places throughout the story starting in the Mexico of Harrison’s youth, when he’s diving in a little cove with cliffs behind it and discovers that when the tide is right it will spit him out of the cave and into the open sea but if the tide is low you could enter the cave and be unable to get out. You would drown. That opening comes and goes. The chance to live comes and goes. Some days it’s there and some days it’s missing. Absolutely wonderful read, thoughtful, sensitive and eloquently done. Very highly more
by Bonnie Renzi
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X