I like big books and I cannot lie– which is why I chose this one. Not unusual. Plus I have a soft spot for historical fiction. History was never my strong suit in school, but turn it into a novel and I’ll read it happily.
Harrison Shepherd, known as Shep, was born in the US, but moved to Mexico with his mother as a young boy. A solitary child, he spent most of his time swimming in the ocean, writing about his days in various notebooks, or helping the cook make meals. He ends up meeting and working for an artist by the name of Diego Rivera.
After a stint back in the US to try living with his father (who was not interesting in that situation), Shep finds himself back in Mexico. Now a teenager, he becomes a typist, cook, and friend to Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo. Shep stays on when Lev Trotsky comes to live with the Riveras, seeking asylum from Stalin. When the political tension becomes too much, the Riveras decide that it’s time for Shep to sever his ties.
All Shep ever wanted to do was write. When he is sent by Frida to deliver her paintings to a museum in New York, he ends up staying the United States, settling in North Carolina. From there, he is allowed to write, putting out two novels based on his Mexican heritage and becoming the sweetheart of an America in turmoil. At least until his Communist ties catch up to him and he becomes nothing more than an enemy of the state.
The story is told using Shep’s journals, kept throughout his life, as well as letters he wrote to Frida and other friends. His writing style is beautiful, and especially interesting when compared to the slang used by his mother and friends.
I’ll have to dig my other Barbara Kingsolver book out of storage soon, if it’s half as good as this one was. The historical elements make you sympathize with Shep and what he is subjected to based on his friendships and associations.
You can find it here.