All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

A confession: I'm biased when it comes to Barbara Kingsolver's books. I've read quite a few of her books, so when I saw that she had a new novel, I ordered it without reading anything about it.

Imagine my surprise and delight to find historical characters including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon ("Lev") Trotsky critical to the plot. Kingsolver lists many sources for historical research prior to casting them in her novel, but I'm not sure how true to their real-life counterparts they were. I've yet to research that for myself, partly because I'd like to believe that she portrayed them accurately. They were bristly and eccentric characters, but also likeable, even if they may not have been in "real life."

The protagonist of the story is Harrison Shepherd, a Mexican-American boy who is a cook, plaster-maker, secretary, and most importantly, writer. He chronicles his life and the book is, in a sense, autobiographical. The reader follows him through interactions with the historical figures mentioned previously, as well as with his mother, father, and secretary, Violet Brown. Kingsolver deals lightly with McCarthyism (Shepherd himself seemed apolitical) and homosexuality, so as to tell a story rather than to persuade. The reader is left to draw whatever conclusions he or she wishes and to decide the moral, if there is one, of the story. At one point, Shepherd laments,

"The power of words is awful, Frida. Sometimes I want to bury my typewriter in a box of quilts. The radio makes everything worse, because of the knack for amplifying dull sounds. Any two words spoken in haste might become the law of the land. But you never know which two" (The Lacuna, p. 309).

I tend to judge a book by its ending and the feeling it leaves me with as I close it. In this case, I was delighted. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, except to say that there is a sense of closure and relief. The book describes in human terms the impact of repression, censorship, and war. For Harrison Shepherd, the lacuna is his survival.

The Lacuna was published in 2009 by HarperCollins.

Other favorite books by Barbara Kingsolver include: The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, Pigs in Heaven, and Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle. She is the winner of the National Humanities Medal in 2000, as well as a number of other prizes and awards for her writing. Her biography and bibliography can be found at the Harper Collins website.