From Kingsolver, The Fiction Of A Split Psyche Writer Barbara Kingsolver is fascinated by the tension inherent in living on the border between two cultures. Her latest novel, The Lacuna, tells the story of a young man born of a Mexican mother and an American father.
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From Kingsolver, The Fiction Of A Split Psyche

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From Kingsolver, The Fiction Of A Split Psyche

From Kingsolver, The Fiction Of A Split Psyche

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NPR's Lynn Neary paid her a visit.

LYNN NEARY: Barbara Kingsolver may have spent half her life living near the arid desert, but it's the dense green, and on this day, very wet woods of the Appalachians where she feels most at home.

NEARY: Is this the Appalachian Trail where...

M: We're near the - yeah.

M: We're near the Appalachian Trail.

M: We're near the Appalachian Trail. We're just in the middle of the Southern Appalachian eco region that's kind of the heart of the place I want to be.

NEARY: Kingsolver and her husband, Steven Hopp, live in a renovated farm house in Southern Virginia, not too far from this trail. Hopp teaches at a local college, which is where they met. And for many years, they spent most of the year in Tucson and summers on the farm. Finally, they decided that this is where they belong and so moved back to Virginia for good.

NEARY: What's this creek or river running?

M: It's the Holston River.

M: No, this is the...

M: Sorry.

M: No, this is Laurel.

M: I'm sorry, you're right.

M: Yeah, this is Laurel Creek.

M: Laurel Creek.

M: This would be river status in Arizona, but it's a creek here.


NEARY: That's true. Did it take some time getting - I mean, this is such a different landscape from Arizona?

M: Well, it really is and we - we had a very split... Well, I'll speak for myself. I had a very split psyche when I lived between the two places. When we came back here in the summers, I kind of let my breath, out seeing all this water. It feels very safe to me to be surrounded by green growing things and water.

NEARY: Kingsolver grew up in Kentucky, just a few hours from here, and she has family nearby so she relishes that sense of being home. But she's also glad she got away. Those years in the Southwest changed the way Kingsolver sees the world.

M: I think the most interesting parts of human experience might be the sparks that come from that sort of chipping flint of cultures rubbing against one other. And living on the border between Mexico and the U.S. for so many years gave me a lot of insight into that.

NEARY: Driven indoors by the rain, we retreat to the farm Kingsolver now calls home. A flock of guinea hens greets us as we arrive and we are met at the front door by the family dog.


M: Thank you, sweetheart.

M: Thank you for watching the house.

NEARY: This is where Kingsolver lives and writes and she guards her privacy fiercely. It's only because of the bad weather that she reluctantly shares this private space with a stranger. Still, Kingsolver is a warm host, eager to make her guest feel comfortable.

M: Here have a seat. I'll make us some tea.


NEARY: Seated with a cup of tea in her book-filled study, Kingsolver talks about her new novel "The Lacuna." She remembers the day she thought of that title.

M: I came downstairs with great enthusiasm at the end of my writing day and announced to my family, I have a new title for this book, "The Lacuna." And I got this kind of blank stares and my husband said, well, I don't think everybody knows that word. And I said, well, I'm really sorry, but that's the word.

NEARY: In Kingsolver's book, a lacuna has several layers of meaning. It's a tunnel that leads from one place to another. It also refers to a missing manuscript that creates a gap in the story.

M: There's always a part of the story you haven't heard that would influence your judgment if you knew it all. And when it comes to people we don't know, that part of the story gets bigger and bigger. It also applies to history. There's always a part of your own nation's history that you haven't been told, that really has a powerful impact on what you see around you and how you yourself may behave and may believe.

NEARY: Kingsolver says she wanted to explore the relationship between art and politics in two different cultures. And Harrison Shepherd, caught between two worlds and searching for his own identity, becomes the perfect vehicle for that exploration.

M: He has a clear understanding that life would be much better for him if he were invisible. He's struggling to find a place where he belongs and really to belong in his own skin.

NEARY: It also, though, does give you a way to eavesdrop on these great figures, too - to have that kind of a character at the center of the story.

M: Invisibility is a great gift. He gets to go a lot of places because he has really cultivated this capacity to be unnoticed in the world, and therefore he gets to sit in on a lot of really important conversations - and as a reader, so do you.

NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News.


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