Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s 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 internationalist 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.
What a book and I am struggling to put my thoughts about it down on paper.
This was chosen by one of my bookgroups as it's monthly read but I sort of put it to the back of my mind as I have never read any of this authors novels and there was just something about them that put me off. No idea what but I just seemed to be a bit scared of reading one of them. So fate played a hand, when I was mooching around the Friends of the Library bookstore (http://www.folmc.org/) and there was a lovely brand new hardback copy of this book for a couple of dollars. Well I just had to take it and give it a try.
During the first 196 pages I thought that my initial thoughts about this author were justified. While the subject matter was interesting the style of writing just did not work for me. It started and then came to an abrupt stop in the first two chapters and then proceeded in a very "staccato" style of diary pages. I was struggling so much with following it because of this style and also, because of the Mexican places and names and use of Spanish interspersed amongst the English that seemed to stop my reading flow dead in it's tracks. I even went so far as saying to my husband that I was going to give up as life was to short to read something that I wasn't really enjoying. Then a voice in my head said no, so I looked up some of the reviews of this novel on one of my favourite book websites (readitswapit.co.uk) where a number of trusted acquaintances made similar comments that they had struggled with the first part of the book but had kept reading and it was really worth persevering with. So I persevered and I am so glad I did.
Such an interesting story where a number of real characters and their stories were linked together by the main character Harrison Shepherd. I thought the characters were so well developed that I really felt for Mr Shepherd, amongst others, and was really angry at his trial by media. It is difficult to say much more without inserting spoilers. It showed me that even back then when there wasn't the same levels of media intrusion that goes on today, a person could be hung because one journalist chose to write blatant lies or twisted the truth to suit their own headline needs. It is also frightening to think that the Government had/has such power to brand someone with an undesirable tag and then hound them out of their livelihood and country. I would love for one of my Eastern European friends as well as a friend who was alive and remember the Anti Communist upsurge during the post war years to read this book and get their opinions. I truly can't wait to discuss it at bookgroup anyway. The staccato start and stop dead moment at the beginning of the book all became clear as the book came to it's conclusion and then actually added to the experience as a whole.
It has been a while since a novel has left me really wound up and full of the injustices of this world like this has. I know it is only a book and is fiction (although heavily based on facts) but it has really made me quite angry and almost ready to seek vengeance on behalf of Harrison Shepherd, lol! Better watch what I write or
I may get investigated by the Committee of Un American Activity - if it still exists today!!!!
I nearly gave it 4 stars out of 5 because of the start but as my thoughts come tumbling out it upgrades itself to a 5 star as it is a book that most people should read at some point.