Reviews by Jen Chapin-Smith
The Lacuna
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"The Lacuna" explores deep issues of political importance and identity, including Mexican and U.S. nationalities, communism and anti-communism, and class.

Harrison William Shepherd was born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and raised there for many years until she decides to take a step up the social ladder through marriage and so first sends him to a school for children with cognitive disabilities (although Harrison does not have one but nonetheless gets treated with the same contempt as the students with disabilities), then to his father in the United States. There, Harrison witnesses how horribly World War I veterans are being treated and how bad the lives of so many poor people are in the beginning of the Great Depression.

Later, Harrison returns to Mexico where he begins working for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, learning pride in his Mexican heritage. They introduce him to Leon Trotsky, from whom he learn about class and communism.

After Trotsky's assassination, Harrison returns to the United States and becomes a writer whose novels focus on Mexican history. Yet he comes to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee who twist his words to portray him as an anti-American communist. Harrison begins burning his diaries in attempt to (we later learn) hide the fact that he is gay and hide his boyfriend's identity to protect him.

The novel particularly condemns our society's efforts to scapegoat and divide people. It makes one wish more people knew about the United States' role in the Cold War and how it hurt people in and outside the US.

The novel won the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Library of Virginia Literary Award.
The Lacuna
»
"The Lacuna" explores deep issues of political importance and identity, including Mexican and U.S. nationalities, communism and anti-communism, and class.

Harrison William Shepherd was born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and raised there for many years until she decides to take a step up the social ladder through marriage and so first sends him to a school for children with cognitive disabilities (although Harrison does not have one), then to his father in the United States. There, Harrison witnesses how horribly World War I veterans are being treated and how bad the lives of so many poor people are in the beginning of the Great Depression.

Later, Harrison returns to Mexico where he begins working for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, learning pride in his Mexican heritage. They introduce him to Leon Trotsky, from whom he learn about class and communism.

After Trotsky's assassination, Harrison returns to the United States and becomes a writer whose novels focus on Mexican history. Yet he comes to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee who twist his words to portray him as an anti-American communist. Harrison begins burning his diaries in attempt to (we later learn) hide the fact that he is gay and hide his boyfriend's identity to protect him.

The novel particularly condemns our society's efforts to scapegoat and divide people. It makes one wish more people knew about the United States' role in the Cold War and how it hurt people in and outside the US. It also addresses many people's general contempt for people with disabilities and low-income people.
The Lacuna
»
"The Lacuna" explores deep issues of political importance and identity, including Mexican and U.S. nationalities, communism and anti-communism, and class.

Harrison William Shepherd was born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and raised there for many years until she decides to take a step up the social ladder through marriage and so first sends him to a school for children with cognitive disabilities (although Harrison does not have one), then to his father in the United States. There, Harrison witnesses how horribly World War I veterans are being treated and how bad the lives of so many poor people are in the beginning of the Great Depression.

Later, Harrison returns to Mexico where he begins working for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, learning pride in his Mexican heritage. They introduce him to Leon Trotsky, from whom he learn about class and communism.

After Trotsky's assassination, Harrison returns to the United States and becomes a writer whose novels focus on Mexican history. Yet he comes to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee who twist his words to portray him as an anti-American communist. Harrison begins burning his diaries in attempt to (we later learn) hide the fact that he is gay and hide his boyfriend's identity to protect him.

The novel particularly condemns our society's efforts to scapegoat and divide people. It makes one wish more people knew about the United States' role in the Cold War and how it hurt people in and outside the US.
Three cultures meet
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"Animal Dreams" by Barbara Kingsolver begins as Codi Noline returns to her hometown of Grace, Arizona to help her father as he struggles with Alzheimer's disease. Although everyone expects her to take his place as the town's doctor, Codi instead becomes the new biology teacher at the local high school. In the process, Codi leans more about the local Native American population (as her boyfriend is a member of one of the local Nations) and Hispanic culture as she tries to help some of the Latina women fight the local mining company that is polluting the town's agricultural water supply.

Meanwhile, Codi's sister Hallie is teaching people in Nicaragua about sustainable farming techniques until the Contras kill her. Like many people in the United States, Codi did not previously know that her government was funding war that killed civilians, particularly indigenous peoples, in Central America until her sister writes to her about the violence and then dies because of it. The novel is therefore a good way for many Americans who are ignorant of their government's role in the 1980s Central American genocide to learn about it.

Because of the deaths, the novel is particularly heart-rending and while I highly recommend it, I urge readers to approach with caution.
Pigs in Heaven
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The sequel to "The Bean Trees" (which one really should read first), "Pigs in Heaven" continues the story of Taylor and her adopted daughter Turtle. After Turtle notices a boy who fell into a pit and Taylor notifies the authorities to rescue him, the two become famous. That is when an official with the Cherokee Nation's government notices that Turtle was not legally adopted. This points to the larger issue of Native American children being taken forcibly from their families and adopted by non-Native American families.

The novel explores issues of mother-daughter relationships, race, Native American rights and culture, and child abuse (a relative put Turtle in Taylor's car in order to get her out of a sexually abusive home). As I have seen few other novels that truly tackle these issues, I recommend it to all readers.

"Pigs in Heaven" is author Barbara Kingsolver's first book to appear on the "New York Times" best seller list and won the 1993 "Los Angeles Times" Book Prize for Fiction.