12 Sep 2011

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I have a wordpress blog but I dont really use it - as I have intentions of using this one (ahem) prolifically?! - I have decided to move over some of my favourite posts of 2011. Fear not, I have probably only posted about 3 times so its not that big a deal.  I did read this book (see post header) earlier in the year and the more I think about it the more I realise how good a book it was and how much it has stayed in my mind.  At the time I was also reading another book called Love in the time of cholera which is set in a similar country and the themes relate to one another in the book. I also watched the film Frida (about Frida Kahlo) as that is a foucs in the Lacuna. So at the time it was confusing to say the least. The text that follows is

 the blog post that I made at the time.

Lagoon in Santo
Image via Wikipedia
I can't remember when I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I have looked up the release date and it was sold as a paperback in 2000. I think I must have read it soon after it came out but that confuses me. I was at the time living in Ghana in West Africa, and I didn't come home until 2001. By this time I was engaged to a Ghanaian and my memory wants to tell me that I wasn't with him when I read the book. I must have been. It is strange, if I read the book after in 2002 or there about, then I may have noticed more or related more to the book. I didn't. I enjoyed the book immensely and have since recommended it, it was a difficult start but once submerged I had to read it to its completion. I should re-read it, I think I will.
Why am I writing about The Poisonwood Bible? because it was because I read this that I read The Lacuna. I did read another Barbara Kingsolver book called Prodigal Summer. To be honest, I can't remember it off the top of my head. I am sure if I attempted to re-read it then it would come back to me (that's how my memory works, forgets everything as if it was never there, then flash it a little bit and it bounces back - like when the power goes out and there's a pause till the generator kicks in, yes, my memory is only prepared to work when all else fails). I was in the local supermarket and thought I would buy myself a book, I always wonder down there and sadly I am a book buyer who is swayed by the front cover. I glanced up and saw a swathe of blue and the name Barbara Kingsolver. Decision made. I left the shop feeling happy that I finally had something to read and hopeful that it would be good.
I started reading the book and was instantly drawn in, but as I progressed through it I wanted to know more about Frida and Diego. I don't know if it was purely because of them or related to my interest in communism and Russian history.
I really liked that it was a mixture of fiction and fiction based on true events. It was totally believable. I did watch the film Frida when I was half way through the book and was half looking out for Harrison. It made him seem invisible. Harrison seemed so sensitive and delicate to me and I felt protective towards him. I think that is why I was so angry about the treatment of people who were thought to be a party to communist intentions and the treatment of Harrison (who had become this even more timid and fragile bird to me) was upsetting. I am a great believer in what happens in the past stays in the past. I think that it may have been a sign of the times that he could be so quickly ostracised by 'friends'. I guess that is why I love the ending so much - his freedom and his sacrifice.
I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez book Love in the time of cholera at the same time. Which ended with them merging into one almost. They were set in similar time periods and were similar geographically. It did become confusing and I really want to re-read this book and I will and you should read it too.
By the way..I had some good intentions to write some real literary discussion and I went so far as to get the discussion questions from this great site: Lit Lovers, but I just haven't been able to. But if you need some questions or want some prompts then see below:
Questions from Lit Lovers
Discussion Questions
1. What does Shepherd mean when he says, "The most important part of the story is the piece of it you don't know." And how does this oft stated remark relate to the book's title?
2. What is the significance of the book's title? What does it mean within the context of the novel?
3. Do Shepherd's diaries feel realistic to you? Does he sound like a 12-year old at the beginning...and later a mature man?
4. What prompts Harrison to begin his journals? Why does he write? What does he mean by referring to his notebook as "prisoner's plan for escape"?
5. Describe Shepherd, first as a 12-year-old and, later, as a mature adult. What kind of character is he? How does he change over the course of the novel?
6. How about Shepherd's mother? In what way does her profligate life affect how Shepherd decides to lead his own life?
7. Describe the Riviera/Kahlo household. How does Shepherd see Riviera's influence over Kahlo? Have you seen the movie Frieda? If so, does that film influence your reading of The Lacuana?
8. How does Kingsolver portray Leon Trotsky in this work? Were you aware of his background and the history of the Russian Revolution before you read the novel? If so, did your prior knowledge color your reading—or did your reading affect your knowledge?
9. Do you find the second-half of the novel, in the US, evocative of a time and place that no longer exists? If so, is that a good or bad thing? If not, what has remained the same? How does Kingsolver present those years?
10. What is Shepherd's relationship with his secretary, Violet Brown? What kind of character is she? Why does she want to preserve Shepherd's memory?
11. What role do the media play in this novel? Is it a fair or realistic portrait? What are the benefits of fame...and what are its costs?
12. Does this book enlighten you about the era of the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings? Or do you feel this ground has been well tread by many others?

I never answered the questions that I found - fear probably of getting the answers wrong. I studied english literature at A'level and I distinctly remember out teacher saying that there was no right or wrong answer in english literature. Yet somehow I managed to get the answer more wrong than right. It was misleading of him to say that as it was a total lie. But it does mean that I question the validity of my own interpretations and constantly compare my opinions with others. Which is quite restrictive when I want to share my views.

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