The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
The Lacuna covers about 30 years of American and Mexican history through the life of Harrison Sheperd, a half-Mexican, half-American boy raised in Mexico who becomes an author. This is his life story, told through his journals, covering his time as a cook in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the Bonus Army riots, Leon Trotsky’s exile in Mexico, the war effort in Ashville, NC, and finally the McCarthy trials. Sometimes Shepherd’s life seems like a way to string together these interesting moments in history, but for the most part he and the other non-historical characters are compelling enough to drive the narrative on their own. Kingsolver wears her politics on her sleeve, as always. She presents Trotsky’s death as a tragedy, and suggests communism might have worked out if he’d been in charge of the USSR instead of Stalin. Everyone now agrees that the McCarthy trials were ridiculously unjust, so they are perhaps an easy target for liberal outrage. But the protagonist’s reflective voice softens any agenda the author may have had and provides an ample spoonful of sugar to accompany the political message, which I agreed with for the most part anyway. It’s a long book, but engrossing. Kingsolver read the audiobook herself and did an impressive job with the various accents, Spanish and Appalachian.