Book Review: The Lacuna: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

Cover of "The Lacuna: A Novel"

Cover of The Lacuna: A Novel

I was finally able to read The Lacuna: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver. This book has been on my list for over a year, but while running a book club at MAC Cosmetics, I forgot to put it on our “must read” list! Now that I am a lone reader with no club behind me, I had to pull from my own list. In high school I started a book club that I ran for all 4 years of schooling. During my junior year, we read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Every year we chose a book that inspired us to take action and used it as inspiration to do social work. That year, The Poisonwood Bible inspired us to raise money for Oprah’s Angel Network. At the time, this book was an Oprah’s Book Club feature. We collected money from fellow students (it really didn’t amount to much) and sent it to the network along with how The Poisonwood Bible inspired us to do so. About 7 months later I received a letter and signed photo from Oprah! Thanks Oprah!

Back to the topic at hand, Kingsolver is an extremely talented writer, and I knew I had to try another book of hers. I saw The Lacuna on a bookshelf somewhere in the midst of my European backpacking trip and took note that it was a “must read.” The description on the back hints at a story involving imagery of what the United States and Mexico looked like between the 1920s and 1940s. It also hinted that the characters would somehow interact with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I haven’t read much about the two artists (or even seen one of the many Frida Kahlo bio-pics), but in my art studies, I have interacted with their work. This was enough to entice me.

Personally, I’ve always found historical-fiction to be a good read. I am not a big fan of non-fiction, but I love history. This genre combines historical research with an exciting backbone (not that history isn’t exciting but having “fiction” elements allows the author to create scenes that have a greater impact on the reader). Kingsolver pulls this off perfectly. The protagonist is a young man torn between two countries, the US and Mexico, who values privacy and observation over being noticed or even valued. His greatest talent is in his observances and how he is able to record them in his written word. Kingsolver writes the entire story in his writing style (with a few exceptions being newspaper clippings and letters in other characters’ hands). It was incredible to completely forget that Kingsolver even existed and to only imagine this character as the author of the book you picked up. And the fact that Kingsolver had to create an identity separate from her own writing style and still kick-butt in the created style was something else. If the story alone doesn’t entice you, read this book to see pure talent on every page.

But the story should entice you. It deals with the communist “scare,” Mexico’s nationalism and fight for “la revolución,” and how art appeared in the background of all of these events. Her use of Kahlo and Rivera as main characters in the protagonist’s life was fascinating. It gave me a glimpse of who they were that made me hungry for more…who knows, maybe I’ll even read a Frida Kahlo biography in the dreaded form of non-fiction for once!

Portrait of Diego Rivera and Malu Block and Fr...

Portrait of Diego Rivera and Malu Block and Frida Kahlo de Rivera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The narrator, last name Shepherd (but known by a variety of nicknames he references throughout the story), grows up with a mother striving to be something great, and always falling short. Her idea of greatness revolves around the men in her life, and her son is just a tag-along in the hectic life she provides. By basically being unobserved by any parental figures, he learns about his environments from the other characters he interacts with. His story begins on a small Mexican island where he learns how to cook from the talented chef assigned to feed his “family.” This skill becomes his main source of income for much of his life and takes him from mixing Rivera’s plaster for murals (a talent he learned from creating homemade sweet buns) to becoming the main chef in the Diego/Kahlo household. His writing talent is often questioned as he is frequently seen writing his observances. Intermittently throughout the story he is forced to stop writing for whatever reason. It becomes clear that to Shepherd, life doesn’t exist for him without being able to write…and yet, he never complains.

I guess I could go on and on about how this book was impacting, but I don’t want to give away too much. I want YOU to read it!

Has anyone else read this wonderful book or other books by Kingsolver you would like to recommend?

Best,

Lulu

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Has travel lost ALL of its former glory?

Hello World,

Obviously I have been on a week long hiatus…Maui, Hawaii can do that to a person. The slow sunsets, the crashing waves, the sweet/bitter taste of a fresh pineapple…ahh…paradise.

But my recent travel has got me thinking: has travel lost all of its former glory? Condé Nast Traveler did a recent article on the changes that have occurred in flight-travel over the past 25 years or so, and it is pretty striking. I am a pretty frequent traveler, and over the past few years I’ve really noticed that I’m disliking it more and more. This is coming from a girl who had no intention of ever marrying or settling down and simply wanted to travel the world. Am I just getting old? Is it hard on me because it no longer holds any magic? How can it be so bad that it makes me want to stay put?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about the cheap flight and viewing it as a glorified bus ride, but even buses (like Megabus or Bolt Bus between DC and NYC) seem to provide more comfort (free WiFi anyone?). And I’m certainly not one of those fashion snobs who gets upset that people are wearing sweats or pajamas to fly…yes, there are ways to be comfortable and fashionable at the same time, but there’s nothing about flying anymore that screams “look your best!” In fact, I prefer Southwest out of all of the airlines I frequent. To me, they make the now miserable experience just a little less miserable: great service, funny jokes, snacks (heaven forbid), and speedy service. I studied marketing and though people do enjoy being able to “customize” in today’s world, they still don’t mind a packaged deal to ease the decision process! I think this holds particularly true to flights because it was always presented to us as a packaged deal before…if we ever felt a need to customize in our flight travel, those feelings came and went long ago.

The Condé Nast Traveler article pointed out that we also recently lost our “dignity” when it comes to travel…in the form of TSA‘s full body scanners. For a while, there was so much hubbub about whether or not the scanners were going to far or not, but that didn’t seem to stop them popping up in every airport! I’ve now been through those scanners about 5-10 times at least and have just forced myself to not listen to all of the complaints about it. I purposely didn’t look into how I was “losing my dignity” because 1. I figured it couldn’t be that bad if the government was getting away with implementing it and 2. I really didn’t want to know the truth. Because I was writing this post, I decided to actually take a look at some of the articles and images from the past couple of years directly related to this scanner. HOLY SMOKES! If the images I found in my Google Image search are correct and not fabricated by media, then I feel incredibly, incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t even let my doctors see that much! This is absurd! And once they direct you into whatever line they’ve decided to put you in (because most security lines have one of the older machines that shows less and one of the newer machines that shows EVERYTHING), you can’t argue. There is absolutely NO WAY AROUND IT if you want to be a traveler. It’s sad…I am so sad right now. I am a very private person when it comes to my body and that flips me out…makes me feel sick.

Apparently, as of Monday, Europe has banned the use of this machine in its airports. Many concerns deal with not only privacy, but potentially cancer-causing radiation.

Because I can’t confirm for certain what images I found are real or not (though many were posted by major news sources), I’m just going to post this dramatic infographic created by another blogger:

Via Fly With Dignity (Left image courtesy David Vincent Wolf, right image courtesy Max Trombly)

Scared…by my own country. So that’s what that feels like?

Can any readers shed more light that might make me less upset…particularly in relation to what they can actually see or not?

Lulu

New York Fashion Week: Wednesday Highlights via LiveRunway

I apologize for having no updates on Tuesday’s fashion shows. While the shows were airing, I was flying to Maui, Hawaii! Tough life 😉 But I did take time out of sunbathing yesterday to bring you these highlights from New … Continue reading

New York Fashion Week: Monday Highlights from LiveRunway

Yesterday’s LiveRunway only featured 3 shows: Carolina Herrera, Carlos Miele, and Reem Acra. The skirt pictured in the photo above (by Carolina Herrera) was stunning. Oversized, but flowy, great train, detailed fabric, high waist, and neon orange! Neons are consistently … Continue reading

New York Fashion Week: Sunday Review from LiveRunway

Yesterday’s LiveRunway featured 7 designers’ collections. That’s awesome! I waited until the “rebroadcast” of all 7 back-to-back so I could still enjoy my sunny Sunday. It was very, very inspiring…I mean, there was some really mind-blowing designing going on. There … Continue reading

New York Fashion Week Spring 2013: Friday and Saturday Re-Cap

I’ve “print-screened” some images from the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week LiveRunway on YouTube these past couple days as highlighted below. Blue has continued to be a dominant color for the Spring 2013 collections, particularly that cerulean shade I mentioned in my … Continue reading

A Few of My Favorite Things: Russian Culture Theme (3 of 3)

The photo above might be my favorite photo of my husband…ever. This was taken in Russia by a professional photographer when he was a baby. The fact that he is wearing a full on snow suit and knit hat is absolutely hilarious (and telling of the climate in St. Petersburg). And what’s with the random tree? He claims this photo wasn’t even taken around holiday times. It’s fascinating because it contrasts so much with the photos I have of me as a little girl. The professional photographers had a multitude of backgrounds to choose from and my mother probably spent weeks figuring out what my attire would be and how my hair would be curled. This photo, on the other hand, could have been taken on the street, yet it was planned…hmm…

There are few things better than old photos, right? I absolutely love looking at photos from the past, not even just my past. For our wedding, we created what we called a “heritage table.” It was a great opportunity to get our grandparents to pull photos from our ancestors’ pasts. We focused on photos of the couples in the family, ideally on their wedding day, to stick with the wedding theme. When DP’s grandmother (flown in from St. Petersburg for our special day) saw the images of her family framed and on display, she cried. She was absolutely blown away by the quality of the prints and seeing them all together at once. Below is an image of part of the table (of DP’s side):

During this process, many special photos of my husband’s side were unearthed, a keepsake we will now be able to display forever. Below are a few highlights from those photos:

DP’s father and grandparents. Love Babushka’s hair! So chic.

This relative is pretty handsome…looks kind of like Alec Baldwin though. Hmm…

The in-laws looking adorable

Father’s parent’s wedding day in St. Petersburg

DP and his grandfather outside of their dacha (summer home)

This was so much fun! I love looking at photos! If you’re thinking of trying the heritage table for your event, we decorated around the frames with little “love” themed artifacts (such as my parent’s cake-topper) and had the florist place a couple of small white floral arrangements about. This gave it a more vintage feel, almost like a table you would see at your grandmother’s house that has been accumulating memories for years.

How do you like to display your ancestor’s photos?

Best,

Lulu

DIY: Homemade Halloween Party Invitations

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday of the year. I made my husband promise that Halloween will forevermore be “our holiday,” meaning friends and family can expect a scary good time at our haunted shack annually. Because we are … Continue reading

A Few of My Favorite Things: Russian Culture Theme (2 of 3)

For my second favorite thing this week, following my Russian Culture theme, I’ve chosen the custom matryoshka cake topper from my wedding. Our wedding was really themed around ancestry with some details inspired by my Irish heritage and some by … Continue reading

New York Fashion Week: Live Runway

Despite the fact that I moved from the bustling city of New York a month ago, I can still enjoy Fashion Week the exact same way I enjoyed it there, by watching Live Runway on YouTube. Today was the kickoff … Continue reading