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Diego Rivera's mural in Mexico's Palacio Nationale was only half complete the day young Harrison Shepherd stood transfixed before it, but he would be forever captive to the extraordinary power of the imagination. A solitary child, a devourer of books, left to his own devices by a mother chasing unattainable men and a father pencil pushing for the government back in the States, Harrison observes and he writes. When a quirk of fate lands him in the home of Communist sympathizers Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife, Harrison becomes enmeshed in the turbulent history that will inform his life and work. Through the distinctive voices of Harrison and his insightful amanuensis, Violet Brown, Kingsolver paints a verbal panorama spanning three decades and two countries. World War I veterans protesting for benefits denied, the unleashing of the atomic bomb, the McCarthy hearings, censorship of the arts, and abuse by the press corps lend credence to the sentiment that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Verdict As in The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver perfects the use of multiple points of view, even reprinting actual newspaper articles to blur the line between fact and fiction. This is her most ambitious, timely, and powerful novel yet. Well worth the wait.-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
In her first novel in nine years, Kingsolver displays the same ambition she exhibited in her best-selling The Poisonwood Bible (1998). Moving her story between Mexico and the U.S. and covering some 20 years in the life of Harrison William Shepherd, born to a social-climbing Mexican mother and an emotionally distant American father, who eventually divorce, Kingsolver weaves in pointed social commentary on dark moments in the history of both countries. Zelig-like, Shepherd is present at disturbing yet key historical events, including the violent 1933 Bonus March in Washington, D.C. Kicked out of a military academy for a homosexual liaison, Shepherd returns to Mexico; is taken into the household of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and the exiled Leon Trotsky; and witnesses Trotsky's assassination. He eventually settles in Asheville, North Carolina, becoming well known as an author of historical fiction and coming to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee for his leftist leanings. Kingsolver packs her novel with rich detail on everything from underwater caves to the proper way to mix the plaster Rivera uses in his murals, relaying information through a pastiche of letters, newspaper excerpts, and diary entries. As a result, the novel can be slow going, but the final section, devoted to the loving if platonic relationship between Shepherd and his dedicated stenographer, builds to a stunningly moving coda, conveying the tender emotions between two outsiders who have created their own sanctuary in the face of a hostile mainstream culture.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2009 Booklist