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.
More About the Author
Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland, and grew up in rural Kentucky. She counts among her most important early influences: the Bookmobile, a large family vegetable garden, the surrounding fields and woods, and parents who were tolerant of nature study but intolerant of TV.
Beginning around the age of nine, Barbara kept a journal, wrote poems and stories, and entered every essay contest she ever heard about. Her first published work, “Why We Need a New Elementary School,” included an account of how the school’s ceiling fell and injured her teacher. The essay was printed in the local newspaper prior to a school-bond election; the school bond passed. For her efforts Barbara won a $25 savings bond, on which she expected to live comfortably in adulthood.
After high school graduation she left Kentucky to enter DePauw University on a piano scholarship. She transferred from the music school to the college of liberal arts because of her desire to study practically everything, and graduated with a degree in biology. She spent the late 1970’s in Greece, France and England seeking her fortune, but had not found it by the time her work visa expired in 1979. She then moved to Tucson, Arizona, out of curiosity to see the American southwest, and eventually pursued graduate studies in evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. After graduate school she worked as a scientific writer for the University of Arizona before becoming a freelance journalist.
Kingsolver’s short fiction and poetry began to be published during the mid-1980’s, along with the articles she wrote regularly for regional and national periodicals. She wrote her first novel, The Bean Trees, entirely at night, in the abundant free time made available by chronic insomnia during pregnancy. Completed just before the birth of her first child, in March 1987, the novel was published by HarperCollins the following year with a modest first printing. Widespread critical acclaim and word-of-mouth support have kept the book continuously in print since then. The Bean Trees has now been adopted into the core curriculum of high school and college literature classes across the U.S., and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
She has written eleven more books since then, including the novels Animal Dreams , Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible, and Prodigal Summer ; a collection of short stories (Homeland ); poetry (Another America ); an oral history (Holding the Line ); two essay collections (High Tide in Tucson, Small Wonder ); a prose-poetry text accompanying the photography of Annie Griffiths Belt (Last Stand ); and most recently, her first full-length narrative non-fiction, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She has contributed to dozens of literary anthologies, and her reviews and articles have appeared in most major U.S. newspapers and magazines. Her books have earned major literary awards at home and abroad, and in 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, our nation’s highest honor for service through the arts.
In 1997 Barbara established the Bellwether Prize, awarded in even-numbered years to a first novel that exemplifies outstanding literary quality and a commitment to literature as a tool for social change.
Barbara is the mother of two daughters, Camille and Lily, and is married to Steven Hopp, a professor of environmental sciences. In 2004, after more than 25 years in Tucson, Arizona, Barbara left the southwest to return to her native terrain. She now lives with her family on a farm in southwestern Virginia where they raise free-range chickens, turkeys, Icelandic sheep, and an enormous vegetable garden.