Monday, April 5, 2010

More of "The Lacuna" and Barbara Kingsolver

Click on this review to read the small print about the famous author's career.

I was very surprised to get an anonymous comment giving me a website with a long detailed and very interesting review of "The Lacuna" titled "Lacuna--What's Missing" which you will see on my blog list if you care to read it. The World Socialist Web Site is the web site. The commenter said there was some problem with Barbara Kingsolver's take on history, especially in regard to Trotsky which is discussed in this review.

Well, I do not know very much about Trotsky, so I can't speak authoritatively about him at all. I recall reading about him and his association with Diego Riviera and Frieda Kahlo and his assassination after his security was breached in a number of publications.

I posted this review at this time before I completely finished the novel because I had just been agitated that morning reading about the murder of the rancher Krentz on his property on the border. I knew Barbara Kingsolver had lived many years in Tucson so was bound to have read a lot about our relations with Mexico. Goddard, our attorney general, was quoted in the news yesterday as saying he believes this was a message from the drug cartels which have been under fire by law enforcement here. I felt this novel was a good one to read just to get acquainted with prominent historical figures of Mexico. I had read two thirds of it by then with a lot in it about Diego Riviera, famous communist painter, Frieda Kahlo, his wife, and Lev Trotsky, the communist refuge from Russia who sought asylum there because Stalin was bound to assassinate him if he could.

However, my own view of the novel after finishing it was that Barbara relied too heavily on these famous historical figures for the action of her novel. I thought the third part where her protagonist after leaving Mexico when Trotsky is assassinated was not as interesting, and here we got the test of how well a novelist creates her own characters and her own drama. I thought this novel had a very promising beginning with the protagonist's childhood portrayed as taking place both in the US with his father and in Mexico where his Spanish but Mexican born mother takes him. She makes it clear she is of 'blue blood' pure Spanish stock and is not related to the 'corn eaters' as the natives have been called, but her son, Shepherd, is fascinated with the history of Mexico and how the Spanish 'conquistadors came for gold and land and changed the ownership of the land forever, with the land ending up in the hands of the very wealthy few fostering revolution in Mexico somewhat similar to the revolution of the serfs against the Tsar in Russia, which is the reason why I thought Diego Riviera became a communist.
Well, in this country people became afraid almost to admit that they admired any communistic ideals at all after the witch hunt occurred with McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover beating the bushes for people who had joined the communist party.
People were naming friends as communists to save their own careers in Hollywood and some who admitted to joining the party or were denounced were blackballed and unable to work under their own names for years.
Well, I was in college when university students were joining the party because of the struggle that was going on in Russia to realize the communist ideal of sharing the wealth instead of it being in the hands of the few with the common people with no rights at all, hardly even to live. I didn't join because by then Stalin had taken over and we were getting news that he was killing thousands of his own people to realize his 'ideals.' So I was thinking that was no good, but the witch hunt I thought went way too far and violated people's right to even think for themselves by punishing them so severely for joining the party most of them I thought for reasons of idealism. I thought the wealthy in this country became overly reactive and quite a lot of injustices occurred that seemed to suggest they wanted to nip any idea of revolution against the wealthy in this country in the bud.
Kingsolver builds a case in the latter part of this novel against the witch hunters by portraying them going after her fictional protagonist Shepherd after he has become a famous author writing novels about the conflicts in Mexico between the conquistadors and the natives. She eventually writes a fictional letter from J Edgar Hoover accusing him of treachery, while in reality he is entirely innocent.
Well, right about here, I began to have a little problem with this novel, as I don't think anyone is entirely innocent or entirely guilty. J Edgar Hoover is clearly a black villain in Kingsolver's eyes. Kahlo, Trotsky, and her fictional protagonist are the good guys. In fact, I feel that Barbara, a very attractive woman in her photo above, identified very closely with Frieda Kahlo, as this novel is laden in the later part with long letters written to Kahlo by the protagonist and what Kahlo purportedly does and says in regard to him as most sympathetic. But I thought why does she hide behind Kahlo. Make Kahlo her mouthpiece so to speak. I did not even think these letters were very interesting because the relationship was imaginary. I did not think that using Kahlo in the later part of this novel was effective. The novel clearly needed more of Kingsolver and less of the already world famous painter.
I read a very good bio of Kahlo and also saw the movie "Frieda" in which Selma Hayak, a native, played the artist. I liked these works very much because of what I learned about Kahlo. I really don't like mixing the imaginary with a real person because this is often very confusing to readers who think this is real history. It begins to sound like she is using Kahlo to strengthen her case, an imaginary relationship with her imaginary protagonist.
Well, this is a novel, so I have to say, okay, but it bothered me. Poisonwood Bible did not bother me because everyone important in the novel was fictional. Then I had to wonder how authentic the considerable drama in it with Trotsky could really be. Certainly historical novelists have to take liberties, but I began to feel that Kingsolver lost her grip in this novel somehow. She used her historical figures to give her authority rather than depending on her own merits as a writer and creator of credible characters.
The reviewer I refer to you thought that the protagonist was not well developed and I agree. He became paralyzed in action while as an adult. He was an interesting aggressive kid and then he became so reclusive as an adult his Appalachian stenographer has to take over. I thought did he become paralyzed because the author did not know what to do with him? It seemed like she kept him from doing anything to show that he was entirely innocent of any of the crimes he was accused of by his witch hunters who eventually accused him of being a communist, drove him to Mexico, where he either committed suicide or staged it so as to disappear from persecution.
There did not seem to be one person left in the United States of any intelligence or common sense besides his Appalachian stenographer who could have vouched for him, defended him, helped him fight back. She was clearly an innocent, too, while all other Americans were corrupt including the fans of his best seller novels, suggesting they did not really 'get it' either.
After I finished reading the novel I thought I should not have said this was a great novel. It is an interesting novel, but I started becoming disappointed with it when all the American witch hunters went after Shepherd, and slowly built their poisonous case against him as a dastardly communist.
I have been fighting a long fight for years with members of the democratic party over the party becoming pro choice. I did not leave the democratic party because of their record on civil rights, but I thought the takeover of the media by the pro choice faction and acting like pro life people were stupid, fanatical, and naturally republican, was not right either. As I say I don't think democrats are entirely right or republicans entirely wrong and visa versa. In fact, I voted for pro life candidates because I got so mad at the attitudes of the pro choice democrats. I finally declared myself a pro life democrat and I seek to take back the party from pro choice democrats who can do nothing but insult you when you talk about your reasons for not believing in a violent solution like abortion.
Anyway, I have learned a lesson about reviewing a book before I have entirely finished it. I also probably envy Barbara Kingsolver her illustrious career as a famous writer. She does not need to ride on the fame of other famous figures. She has plenty of her own. In fact, I believe that I was crippled because of my activist nature when I went up against the wrong people in my university career, but I do not think of them as black villains. They were people with faults and failings just as I have. One of these was my father. One was my mother. One was the head of my department. One was the school psychiatrist. One was the head of the psych department in charge of my case. Electric shock therapy was in vogue at the time. One doctor probably saved my life. But I went home too crippled ever to have the distinguished career as a writer that Barbara Kingsolver has enjoyed. I felt I was lucky just to be alive.
That is why I don't want to see her re-writing history to the point of not seeing that she has had great success in this country. Many to appreciate her gifts, and I am sure she will make money on this novel. This country was not as full of villains as she paints it back then or is not now. I am 78 years old and lived through those times, too. Some adjustment of her attitude needs to be made in my opinion, but I still recommend this novel, especially to history buffs. See what you think!

1 comment:

DB said...

I know it has been done for centuries and often for purely pragmatic reasons but I believe that those who write novels which include real people should not make up stories about them. Interpretation is one thing. Fsabrication is something else.



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