Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna follows the short but fascinating life of Harrison William Shepherd. Born to a Mexican mother and an American father, Shepherd grows up in Mexico after his parents’ divorce. Living on a pineapple plantation without any access to formal education, Shepherd reads old, moldy novels he finds in the hacienda library. He also begins a lifelong habit of keeping a journal. Literature and writing become Shepherd’s two passions. To this he adds an appreciation for art after he is hired as Diego Rivera’s assistant, cook, and typist. Living in Rivera’s home he also comes to know Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky; he establishes a strong connection with Kahlo.
After Trotsky’s assassination in 1940, Shepherd flees to New York. His assignment is to deliver Kahlo’s paintings to the Museum of Modern Art. He tries to avoid being questioned by the authorities about his relationship with Trotsky, a fear that follows him throughout his life.
After spending time in New York, Shepherd learns that his father died before he could meet him. In a car left to him in his father’s will, Shepherd takes the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to its end in Asheville, North Carolina. Here he meets Violet Brown, an older widow, in a boarding house. Although World War II has just started and Shepherd is of fighting age, his homosexuality prevents him from serving in the military. He is given a job supervising the transportation of national treasures from Washington, D.C. to the Biltmore Estate where they will be stored for the duration of the war.
After establishing himself in Asheville, Shepherd leaves the boarding house and buys a home. In this new setting, he begins writing novels about Pre-Columbian Mexico that gain him great notoriety (he is compared to Thomas Wolfe) and undesired attention from teenage girls. Shepherd enlists Brown to help him confront his popularity, and she proves to be a devoted assistant and archivist. (It is Brown who is responsible for preserving the diary entries, letters, and newspaper clippings interspersed throughout the novel.) Brown stands by Shepherd as he is investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities regarding his relationship with Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky. After the inquiry Shepherd is fired from the Department of State, his books are banned, and he is distrusted by locals and the general public. Shepherd tries to adapt to his new, censored life, but he finds it difficult. When he drowns in Mexico, he is a person who most people would like to forget. Brown, his faithful companion, is responsible for the story we have today.
Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.