Several blogs ago I commented how I was delaying reading Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Lacuna’ because I knew my reaction when captured by the vast pull of a captivating novel. And so it has proved. A quiet, dreamy boy grows up, has big adentures, wants to settle down and mull over them. It was not to be. Who could resist such an intriguing life
The historian in me is always intrigued by the attempted retrevial of the past. Kingsolver makes Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky human while at the same time emphasising their heroic dimension. Their lives and the events that happen around them are put into a larger perspective. History is made by people of flesh and blood. Stalin was a man.
But it is more than that. There is common humanity in its multitudes. Hopes, alarms, desires, hates, the conflict of emotions and people with one another and at large. Set agianst the backdrop of nature with its contrasts – the colour of Mexico, winter in the Appalachians. The bounty of the sea and earth and their terrors. Environmental issues hover throughout the book.
It is art that transcends all this by recording and analysing it. But even that will not warrant security or satisfaction. The artist is always participant as well as onlooker.
I’m up to the end of the Second World War and the publication of the Harrison Shepherd’s first novel. I know ahead lies McCarthy. But I’ve been surprised the reviews seem to have ignored the riots when the Vet’s camps in Washingtom D.C.were broken up during the depression. I knew it happened. I didn’t know how? Kingsolver presents a lucid and moving account. It helps explain why the American Left cheered so loudly when Truman stood up to McArthur. That general led the charge against the veterans.
What Kingsolver does best is describe and capture one of the great impulses of the 20th century - against tyranny and brutality, the common people’s struggles to improve their lot. They succeeded but not as well as anticipated. It’s a massive theme. I applaud the attempt. And look forward to the second half of the novel.