Yet again I find myself thanking Judith of Reader in the Wilderness for recommending an author, Barbara Kingsolver this time. This is the first of her books which I’ve read and I didn’t know anything about it at all, so it was a great surprise when I realised that it’s about something that I’m interested in.
As a 12 year old Harrison Shepherd is transplanted from Virginia to coastal Mexico when his Mexican mother walked out on her American husband (Harrison’s father) to shack up with Don Enrique whom she hoped would marry her.
Harrison is shunned by the villagers, only having the servant Leandro as company. As well as teaching Harrison how to cook, Leandro shows him how to swim underwater using goggles and he discovers the lacuna, an underwater cave, and the experience is so important to Harrison that he decides to write it down in a notebook and so starts a habit which he keeps up for years.
In the next part of the book Harrison meets and works for the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and then goes on to become cook and secretary for Trotsky! Exciting times!
Harrison eventually ends up back in America, North Carolina to be precise, as a 20 year old. What is it about North Carolina? The place seems to haunt me, in newspapers and on the radio – it’s everywhere!
I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t – The McCarthy era that is. And Harrison doesn’t come out of it well, obviously, given his background.
Even although I’ve seen plenty of McCarthy ‘trials’ on the tv with poor souls squirming under the questioning of evil ignoramuses, I still find it hard to believe that such a thing could happen in a developed country, and so recently too. The thought of it sends shivers down my back.
I think people still use the term ‘un-American’ even nowadays and to them it seems to be synonymous with ‘evil’. My theory is that because America is a very ‘young’ country some people get quite paranoid at the thought of change – possibly because change happens so quickly there – not realising that people and places can’t stand still and may not develop the way they would like it to.
I happen to live in a part of Scotland which had a communist Member of Parliament for years in the 1960s-70s. (Willie Hamilton, due to the large number of coal-miners who lived in the constituency). There is still at least one communist local councillor in the area and roads in a nearby town have been named such things as Gagarin Way. Nobody freaked out about it, after all it’s a democratic country but it just wouldn’t have been possible in the ‘land of the free’.
Barbara Kingsolver won the Orange prize with The Lacuna which I believe amounts to £60,000 and although I haven’t read any of the other short-listed books, I can’t imagine that they would be as good as this one.
I learned a lot, including the fact that the US government attacked First World War veterans with tear gas and used tanks against them, threatened them with machine guns and slashed veterans and their families with sabres! Also that there had been rationing in America during World War 2, although obviously not to the same extent as the rationing in the U.K.
I’ll have to look out her other books now!