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Femme Bookend: Red alert with kahlo and co

La wha?

Lacuna. A space between, a pool, a pit, a gap. Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, set between the 1930s and the 1950s, is winning prizes all over the joint.

Kingsolver . . . Kingsolver?

You know -- she wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about eating local food, The Poisonwood Bible, a funny tragedy about a preacher going to Africa to convert the heathens, and The Bean Trees, about a girl who brings up a baby she finds.

Ahh yes.

Now she's writing about the Communism of the 20th century. Our hero, variously named Will, Harrison Shepherd and Solito, is the kind of person who allows injury to flow right by him.

Er, right?

Okay, I'll explain. For instance, Frida Kahlo, the artist -- a little maelstrom of spite and Aztec glamour and politics and kindness -- mocks Solito for his unrequited love; he just lets it go by.

What's he doing with her?

His glamourpuss mama is mistress of a succession of men -- Don Enrique, Mr Produce the Cash, et al. Mother and son drift into ungenteel poverty. Then Solito picks up a job with Kahlo and her socialist artist husband Diego Rivera, starting as a plaster-mixer, ending up as Trotsky's secretary.

Wait, wait, Trotsky? Who? What?

Revolutionary Leon Trotsky was living with the artists, hiding out from the Russian dictator Stalin, when he was assassinated. One by one, Stalin killed his children, and finally managed to kill Trotsky too.

That's the end?

Not at all. I'll skip back. Salome brought young Solito back to the US where he witnessed the 1930s riots by starving soldiers returned from World War I.

Really?

All fact-based. After returning to Mexico and working with Frida, he goes back to the US and writes literary bestsellers, then the Red-hunters of the McCarthy tribunals come after him, full of lies and twists and treachery.

Worth reading?

Absolutely. Awfully long but awfully good.

Happy ending?

Very. The story circles around like one of those Aztec plumed serpents, tail in mouth, a wry eye on the startled reader.

> Lucille Redmond


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