Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel in nine years
When Barbara Kingsolver arrives at Miami Book Fair International on Nov. 9, she’ll have in tow The Lacuna, her first novel since 2000’s Prodigal Summer . But she hasn’t been idle: Kingsolver relocated to rural Virginia, where she and her family grow most of their food.
Kingsolver turned the story of that daunting move into a surprise best seller, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in 2007. Readers identified with its argument for eating locally.
“It was the crest of a wave, which astonished us,” Kingsolver tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I’ve never been trendy in my life. Instead, I sit at my desk and dream up the next crazy idea.”
Still, those years weren’t entirely spent planting, canning or feeding the animals. Kingsolver devoted seven years to researching and writing The Lacuna, an ambitious novel that starts with hero Harrison Shepherd as a boy growing up in Mexico with his “man-hopping” mother.
Harrison, who keeps a journal to help make sense of his life, finds work as a cook for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo — ardent communists. He later cooks for their friend, the exiled Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky. When Trotsky is assassinated, Kahlo sends Harrison, who has dual citizenship, back to the United States for his own safety.
But the safety Harrison finds is provisional. The Lacuna culminates when Shepherd — a minor historical novelist by then — is called before the McCarthy hearings to defend himself of charges he’s a communist subversive.
Readers who loved Kingsolver’s earlier novels, especially her masterpiece The Poisonwood Bible, will find the richly detailed characters and thorny moral conundrums familiar and satisfying.
Not yet in stores, The Lacuna has already received a starred review from Publishers Weekly (“masterfully resurrects a dark period of American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist”), while Canadian reviewer Richard Marcus gives it a thoughtful rave at Blogcritics.org (“While beautifully written, with characters who jump off the page they are so alive, it is filled with unpleasant truths about our society.”)
Indeed, as Kingsolver tells the Star Tribune, she had the modern American political climate in mind as she worked on the novel.
“Most of the time I was writing this one was during the Bush administration,” Kingsolver says. “I was thinking so much about censorship and infringement of rights and government bearing down on people, and how close we have come to repeating stomping on anyone critical of it.”
An Evening with Barbara Kingsolver, Mon., Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m., at the downtown Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College, 300 NE 2nd Ave., Miami. Tickets: $10.