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The Lacuna

Kingsolver, Barbara. (2009). The Lacuna. HarperCollins.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, published in 2009, is a literary novel set in various places both in Mexico and the United States during the 1930s. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are strongly featured in the story. This essay is a tribute to the special exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum that is featuring the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the next few months (February 6- May 2, 2021).

What is a “lacuna” you might ask? It is a word not often used by English speakers, but it is a part of our vocabulary. According to Merriam-Webster, a lacuna is a blank space or a missing part; a gap; a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure. It can be used in literature or in medicine or in everyday speech. For Spanish speakers, lacuna can also refer to a pool, or, by extension, a “lagoon”. Spiritually speaking, “lacuna” can refer to the gap between two worlds: two nationalities, two countries, life and death. It is this latter definition that can be applied to the essence of this novel.

The narrator of this story is Harrison William Shepard. He was born in the US to a Mexican mother and a North American father. After the father leaves them, his mother takes Harrison to Mexico City. While there, Harrison obtains a job as a plaster mixer for Diego Rivera, a muralist famous for his frescoes. Eventually he meets Frida Kahlo and becomes a cook for her and Diego. They all remain lifelong friends. When Lev Trotsky leaves the USSR and arrives in Mexico City, Harrison becomes his secretary and witnesses his assassination. Harrison returns to the US and becomes a writer and diarist. At this time in history, World War II comes to the US with an attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, so the story focuses on that aspect of history. Harrison returns to Mexico City where he resumes his friendship with Frida and Diego. I don’t want to spoil how he “meets his end”; I’ll just say that water in a lagoon is involved.

Though this is a novel, the historical facts about the lives of Frida and Diego, and Pearl Harbor, are accurate, according to what I have learned about them (Frida’s accident and her life of pain as reflected through her art; Diego’s unfaithfulness; the attack on Pearl Harbor). One book, several stories to fill in the gaps. It’s my favorite Kingsolver book.

The Lacuna is the winner of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction, now called the Women's Prize for Fiction. Click here to learn more: Women's Prize for Fiction The Lacuna - 2010 Winner - Women's Prize for Fiction.

Reviewed by Pat Gorman, NHCC Book Club member.

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