November 29, 2009

The Lacuna

So let me recommend another book, this time a novel, by Barbara Kingsolver: The Lacuna. This book is an unbelievable tour de force, in a whole number of ways; and it unexpectedly turns very political at the end, darkly hinting (it seemed to me) at right-wing forces that are likely to engulf us in the course of the next decade (I hope I'm wrong). It also indicates that when such things happen, an empire is on its last legs.

However, it wasn't the politics that attracted me here; it was the prose. What a writer! Comparing her power as a novelist with my own feeble efforts in this direction, I could see what a long row I'd have to hoe, if I continue writing fiction, to come even close to this level of achievement.

At least half the novel is set in Mexico, and her genius for Mexican slang, for the nuance of the Mexican way of life, is equally impressive. The following paragraphs capture some of the things I adore about this country--things I felt from the 1st time I visited in 1979, but which I could never seem to put into words. In the hands of a master like Kingsolver, the ineffable is 'made flesh', as it were:

"In the afternoon when the sun lights the stucco buildings across the street, it's possible to count a dozen different colors of paint, all fading together on the highest parts of the wall: yellow, ochre, brick, blood, cobalt, turquoise. The national color of Mexico. And the scent of Mexico is a similar blend: jasmine, dog piss, cilantro, lime. Mexico admits you through an arched stone orifice into the tree-filled courtyard of its heart, where a dog pisses against a wall and a waiter hustles through a curtain of jasmine to bring a bowl of tortilla soup, steaming with cilantro and lime. Cats stalk lizards among the clay pots around the fountain, doves settle into the flowering vines and coo their prayers, thankful for the existence of lizards. The potted plants silently exhale, outgrowing their clay pots. Like Mexico's children they stand pinched and patient in last year's too-small shoes.

"Here life is strong-scented, overpowering. Even the words. Just ordering breakfast requires some word like toronja, triplet of muscular syllables full of lust and tears, a squirt in the eye. Nothing like the effete 'grapefruit,' which does not even mean what it says."

Arriba!

2 Comments:

Blogger WCS Minor Circuit said...

Everyone, I believe, can be a good writer. Some have more talent than others (just like playing the piano), but every once in a while a person will come around who just blows all the other writers out of the water through their incredible skill with words. I'll be sure to find and read this book.

On a slightly related note, only recently have I been interested in my own [Mexican] heritage. As a fourth generation American I haven't quite been in touch with my "roots", and this really never bothered me until I realized that though my culture is "American" (and what a culture it's become), I will always be Mexican and I could learn more about myself by learning where I come from.

Thanks for the recommendation.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

I haven't read "The Lacuna" yet, but have placed it "on reserve" at my public library. ( It's a bestseller! ) Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" is a wonderful book on "real food", by the way.

And just last night: Jon Stewart did a bit on his show about a woman, from Boston, who moved to Mexico ( Progreso, I think she said )in part because of the high cost of health care in the US. Better watch out: it looks like it's going to get crowded with gringos down there soon!

1:34 AM  

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