Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I'm reading, belatedly--I'm slow in catching up with all those bestsellers--Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna." It's a wonderfully told tale woven around the events in Mexico in the heyday of the revolutionary days of the early 20th century, with intellectuals like Frida and Diego and Trotsky in the vanguard of a movement to turn the world over to the workers. Some hope! In Mexico, sadly, these days, the country seems to have been turned over to murderously feuding drug cartels. Ah, well.

But it's a marvelous book. I was slow getting into it but now, halfway through, I'm hooked by both the narrative and the narrator--a wry observer of the cultural and political scene from boyhood days, whose mother leads him on a fate-driven dance in the vain and ever-declining search for a man of wealth to support her. He becomes first the fresco-mixer to the great muralist, "the Painter," then cook and confidant for the famous couple, then secretary to the troublesome visitor from Russia. Thus far... with so many pages left, I'm wondering where he's headed after the death of these giant figures. We'll see.

In the meantime, Kingsolver treats us to an engaging mix of lyricism and epic, taking in both the natural wonders of the sub-tropical environment and the great, mostly tragic sweep of pre- and post-Columbian history. Subtly, she reveals to us truths about our own time as she does so. Here's "Lev" Trotsky, via Kingsolver, on journalists. "They tell the truth only as an exception. Zola wrote that the mendacity of the press could be divided into two groups: the yellow press lies every day without hesitating. But others, like the Times, speak the truth on all inconsequential occasions, so that they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary." On the same page, Lev notes acerbically, "We are made to declare our love for our country, while it tramples our rights and dignity."

Most of all, perhaps, I'm enjoying Kingsolver's strikingly visual prose. I have been to some of the sites she describes--Rivera's modernist concrete block residence and studio, Frida's ranch style house with its outrageous colors and its glorious flower garden; Kingsolver captures them to perfection, as she does the jungle and the ocean, the teeming streets of Mexico City and the desert that surrounds it. You constantly feel included, as a reader, as a silent participant in each scene, emotionally tugged in to the narrative by the mercurial Diego and the temperamental Frida, great characters, both.

So, I read on, after this sort-of review. Since I'm not in the business, I feel free to write one even when I'm only halfway through.

No comments: