Isla Pixol, Mexico, 1929
In the beginning were the howlers. They always commenced their bellowing in the first hour of dawn, just as the hem of the sky began to whiten. It would start with just one: his forced, rhythmic groaning, like a saw blade. That aroused others near him, nudging them to bawl along with his monstrous tune. Soon the maroon-throated howls would echo back from other trees, farther down the beach, until the whole jungle filled with roaring trees. As it was in the beginning, so it is every morning of the world.
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver starts as above with a young boy, half American, half Mexican, awaking each morning to the howling of monkeys in the trees. Harrison William Shepherd has come with his mother to live at an estate in Mexico with the man she left his father for; the man she was hoping would marry her but has more than anything kept her a prisoner on this remote Mexican island.
The first chapter of this book intrigued me, but unfortunately became dry and quite slow-paced for the next six chapters or so. A story told through the letters and diaries of the main character after his death, it covers the time period of the workers communist movement in Mexico. Many real-life historical figures are written in. Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, both famous artists, are employers and friends of our young hero, as is Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik Revolutionist who was exiled to Mexico.
Even though historical fiction is my favorite genre, I really took a long time to drag my way through this book. It's not that I didn't like the story, I did, but parts of it were dry and just seemed to drag, though I never did get to the point of just giving up and I am glad I finished the book. It was one of those stories where I could just never connect with the main character and felt that he was a bit flat. Lots of good reviews out there and many readers loved this book. It was just okay for me man. (My shout out to Randy Jackson on American Idol. lol)
From the dust jacket:
Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico - from a coastal island jungle to 1930's Mexico City - Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.
Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internatinalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach-the lacuna-between truth and public presumption.
Naomi by Berniece Rabe is the book that I decided to pull off my dusty shelves and read this past month for Adrienne's Turn the Page Tuesday challenge of reading something that has been on your shelf for awhile. This is one I read years ago, I believe when I was in Junior High. I picked up this autographed copy at a yard sale a couple of years ago.
' "Cain't you hear? I asked you what y're doin'?" Grace shouted.
Naomi paid no attention to the roughness in her sister Grace's voice, but kept right on with what she was doing, placing one leg with a great crossing motion in front of the other as she walked on the hard-packed dirt path that circled their weathered house and made forks through the weeds to the barn, chicken house, toilet, and cotton field. "I'm walkin' like a cow. What does it look like I'm doin'?"
"Well, Mom says to cut it out. She said for me to tell you that it looks nasty."
Naomi took two more cow steps. '
Naomi is a ten year old girl growing up on a farm in southeast Missouri. Her Mom is already harping on her that if she can't peel potato's thin enough, she will never make someone a good wife. At the opening of the story, Naomi's Aunt Wilma has already died from a snakebite, but at her death at the ripe old age of 21, she was unmarried and already a burden to the family. Naomi is a pretty girl, taking after her aunt in that aspect and her Mom is very afraid that Naomi is "patterning her ways" after the dead aunt.
A fortune-teller has moved to town and Naomi goes to see her, hoping to here that she will grow up good, become rich and not be a burden to her family. Instead, she hears that she will die before her fourteenth birthday - and the fortune-teller is never wrong. When Naomi's family finds out that she went to see this woman, she is in a world of trouble, but Naomi can tell that her superstitious family and neighbors believe in her fate. What a terrible burden to be hanging over a young girls head.
What will happen? Will Naomi perish before she is fourteen? This is a young reader book, quick moving. Naomi is a very likeable character, full of spirit and always getting herself into trouble with her very strict and not so likeable Mom and sister. A good coming of age story set in a time and place full of poverty, ignorance and superstition.
Pop over to Some of a Kind for more Turn the Page Tuesday reviews!