Written by Barbara Kingsolver and published in 2009, The Lacuna is Kingsolver’s sixth novel. The Lacuna traces the journey of Harrison William Shepherd from Mexico City, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to America, the Cold War, and the Red Scare. Shepherd’s life and his identity is threatened to be pulled apart because of the two changing nations of Mexico and America, both of which he has lived in, at some point in his life.
Born in the States and then raised in Mexico in the 1930s, Shepherd starts out as a plaster mixer for Diego Rivera and then becomes a cook and a secretary as well. Because he worked as a secretary for Trotsky, Shepherd started to incorporate revolutionary art and ideas and gossip into his work, putting him in danger in Mexico.
As the US is fighting in WWII during this time, Shepherd moves back to the States to restart his life and work, but as the political and social turmoil of the Red Scare starts to attack artists and incriminate them for their work. Shepherd tells his secretary, Violet Brown, to burn his work after he is investigated by the House of Un-American Activities. However, she does not, and the papers that she saves make up most of the novel.
The Lacuna won the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Library of Virginia Literary Award. Kingsolver artfully follows Shepherd’s life and illustrates how history and public opinion are powerful enough to shape people’s lives. The title, The Lacuna, could have been derived from the fact that there are gaps in the story, called lacunae, or that there is a rift, a lacuna, that cannot be acknowledged between the truth and what the public believes.