Archive for August, 2011

THE LACUNA by BARBARA KINGSOLVER

He is an instruction to us all, exiled from every place on earth save a desert wilderness, he professes a passion for cactus.

Editors note – this is a record of a bookgroup meeting about The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, the author of the international megahit the poisonwood bible. The book begins in 1920/30s mexico with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Trotsky, but ends in mcarthy’s America of the 1950s. The story is told in the form of a diary of sorts by a fictional character named Harrison Shepherd. This record was found on the internet. It appears to be an old blog which like the book reads like a diary. It has been corrupted in some way, so it has no name or origin and is very incomplete. That is, it contains a large lacuna which the reader must fill in their own way.

10 august
Señor David has asked me to keep a record of bookgroup events, for his eyes only, as a result these notes will be lonely. I am told it is to be a record, that it is not to contain opinions, these terms are not defined.

I must read and listen but never speak, my reward will be informed silence only, the joy of a lame antelope watching a lion.

It may take some days to complete this record of events, given my other tasks for Senor David. I am his cook, housekeeper, and now his newly appointed secretary.

In the beginning Harrison and his mother have left his father in the USA. They are in 1920s Mexico, and they are woken each morning by devils howling. First one, then another, and another, until the whole forest is howling.

It takes Leandro, the house cook and the object of Harrison’s first childhood crush, to explain they were not devils just monkeys. this knowledge does not change the noise.

At the Bookgroup Senor X observed that later in the book, when first Trotsky and then Harrison are persecuted by the media, Harrison remains calm and unsurprised. He understands their behaviour perfectly, he knows they are howlers, each repeating the scream of its neighbour, determined to be the loudest.

Like this example, the book is full of beautiful insights about politics and society, and is beautifully written. It is comprised of short sentences, mostly with two phrases, sometimes three. Usually the third phrase contains a surprise, an emotional twist, like the last line of a haiku.

I submit this is not an opinion, surely when the weight of evidence is sufficiently strong, opinion becomes something else.

12 august
At the Bookgroup Senora Y noted the book is mostly made up of snappy insightful dialogue between Harrison and three women. In the first third, the dialogue is between he and his mother, in the second between he and Frida Kahlo, and the third between he and Violet Brown.

Harrison’s mother is a Mexican peasant but has no time for religion, politics, or her native mexico. As a poor Mexican girl she is like many male gold diggers, she trys lots of potential mines but none deliver, even Mr Produce the Cash.

In contrast, frida is wealthy, wears her Mexican identity as her sleeve, and is a committed communist. Otherwise however she is very like harrison’s mother, volatile, outspoken, and seeks to use men as she wishes.

The third woman is entirely different, violet brown is from a southern USA family. She left the family in the ‘hells’, which is what she calls her home town in the mountains, not because she lacks the wit or imagination to find a better metaphor, but because of her hillbilly accent. She works for and looks after Harrison for 15 years, is organized, reliable and efficient, everything frida and harrison’s mother were not.

I dreamt last night that in a cafe, at the table opposite, a woman looked into her companion’s eyes and occasionally touched him on the wrist. I could not tell whether it was the look of a girl in love, or of a woman still feeling the afterglow of hours, or possibly minutes before.

Senor David I submit that this is not an opinion, it is an event although it never occurred, and so I have duly recorded it.

16 august
Harrison spends his childhood learning how to make empanadas and pan dulce from Leandro. Then he uses this skill to get a job with diego rivera mixing plaster for his murals, then baking for diego and frida. In the process he learns art, revolutionary politics, more cooking, and mexican history.

Once exiled from mexico into the USA he uses this knowledge to write successful novels set in the ancient Mayan and Aztec empires, but able to be read as allegories of the 20th century’s cold war. At the height of his success the macarthy trials begin, his employment as a cook by trotsky, rivera and kahlo requires his appearance at the committee of un-american activities, and ends his career.

Last night I dreamt that a black swan swam magnificently on a milk lake, it was photographed from morning till night, while no-one noticed the cow grazing on the shore.

Another event, duly recorded.

18 august
on the way home from bookgroup a body of students marched down the street waving placards and chanting, student bodies making demands on behalf of the student body.

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August 28, 2011 at 11:50 am 2 comments


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