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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Portrait Of An Unassuming Man Thrust Onto The Centre Stage Of History

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver's best book since The Poisonwood Bible, The Lacuna is the story of a diffident, unassuming man who is thrust unwillingly onto the centre stage of history. Harrison Shepherd, is born in America but raised in Mexico by his half American, half Mexican mother, a woman who is temperamentally discontented with her position in society and is always seeking to improve it through a series of affairs with married men.

As a youth, Harrison becomes involved with the painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and subsequently with their friend, Leon Trotsky, who is in hiding in Mexico from Stalin's execution squads. Harrison works for all three, graduating from cook to secretary, and finally being entrusted with the care of a shipment of Kahlo's paintings to the US. Impressed by the American lifestyle, he decides to stay and manages to create a new career for himself as an extremely successful novelist, only to be denounced as a Communist in the McCarthyite witch-hunts while at the height of his popularity.

It's a cleverly structured and beautifully crafted book with an emotionally satisfying ending that I did not see coming until the last few pages. I do have some reservations, however. Kingsolver's unabashed political stance can seem intrusive sometimes and I did find the almost saintly portrayal of Trotsky a bit unlikely. Nevertheless, the sheer scale and ambition of this work, the seamless integration of historical material, and the way that imagery and motif are sown into the narrative at every level make this a hugely impressive work.