Archive | August, 2010

The Lacuna

31 Aug

A lacuna is a gap in knowledge, an open space, in history and literary theory. Barbara Kingsolver takes advantage of this definition by leaving much for the reader to figure out in this exquisite book about love, politics, fear and loss.

Harrison Shepherd is a shy young boy, dragged to Mexico from his home in the United States by his Mexican flapper mother (this is the 1920 after all). She flits from man to man, following the money she so desperately needs.  Harrison needs to adapt to his new surroundings and language, but he never quite finds a place to fit in – except when swimming in the sea.

Harrison is again moved to Mexico City and, forced to find an income, fate leads him to Diego Rivera as he is painting his mural in the National Palace. From being a plaster mixer, Harrison finds his life irretrievably united with that of Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo and exiled Communist figure, Leon Trotsky.

This epic novel stands out as it is not Harrison Shepherd himself who is a revolutionary, a dreamer or martyr, but his life is so interwoven with the politics of his time that he is swept up and cannot lead the simple life he craves. 

From revolutionary Mexico in the 1920s to the Red fearing USA post-World War 2, The Lacuna involves a side of history which is ugly and often left undiscussed . This is not only America’s hypocrisy and fear of Communism and all it entails, but also the profound misunderstanding and misinformation that lies at the heart of this fear.

Kingsolver writes The Lacuna through two narrative voices – Harrison Shepherd through his journals and letters and Violet Brown, his assistant who has compiled all his writings. With these dual voices, Kingsolver creates a rounded image of a man who does not understand the importance of his place in history and his deep discomfort with himself. Violet Brown’s voice is strong, believable and sure, whereas Harrison Shepherd’s voice is unsure, nervous and vulnerable. At times the voice created for Shepherd feels too old for his character, too affected, but that is part of his discomfort with himself.

Frida Kahlo is portrayed as a fiery woman, much like she is by Salma Hayek in the film Frida. Her connection with Harrison is special is it is only with him she shares her weaknesses and Harrison his. The relationship between them is integral to the novel and she provides much of the drama.

I loved reading The Lacuna and, at 670 pages, it was easy to read and left me wanting to find out more about this time in US and Mexican History. This is Kingsolver’s best work – it does not have the sentimental ending of The Poisonwood Bible and it is no wonder she has taken so long to write it. One has to wonder whether she had similar arguments with publishers about the title as Harrison Shepherd does in the novel.

P.S. This is a work of fiction – Harrison Shepherd, as much as it pains me write it, did not exist, but I hope you all know that Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky were definitely real people!

Voila

29 Aug

Up early for the second saturday in a row! I could barely believe it myself, but this was also for a special occasion – a catch up with a friend. We both love food and a little bit of decadence, so we decided on Viola in the new section of the Cape Quarter in Green Point. What a great choice!

If you love tea, Voila is the place to head. The owner is a tea fanatic and stocks interesting teas from all over the world. The breakfast menu is complete with tea suggestions (just like wine pairings a some schmancy restaurants) and each tea comes in a particular pot – delightful. I myself am not a tea fan – excuse the anti-climax – so I opted for a smooth and creamy cappucino.

Breakfast is a very important meal to me. In fact, it is also probably my favourite meal and Voila did not disappoint. Wendy had a stunning omelette with mushrooms, bacon and the works. For the cholesterol, or just plain health conscious the option of an egg whites only omelette is available. In trendy Green Point, choices like this are uber important. My breakfast went right to the other end of the spectrum. Named Wild Strawberries, I was presented with three fat flapjacks surrounded by grilled strawberries and bananas, drowned in syrup and topped off with Greek yoghurt. Oh. My. Gosh. The bananas and strawberries were gooey and sweet – perfect with the slightly sour taste of Greek yoghurt (for even more decadence you can have mascapone cheese instead of yoghurt).

Voila also makes their own fresh juices which you can mix and match. I had pineapple and apple to accompany my breakfast. The sweetness of the raw juice, with all the goodness of the foam that comes with it made me feel like I’d had the ultimate power breakfast to get me ready for my day ahead. Unfortunately I must say that the price of the juice is a bit steep. R28 for a glass of juice, even if freshly squeezed, is pretty ludicrous. The other prices were reasonable, making the juice price even more surprising and annoying.

The atmosphere at Voila is very relaxed. The decor is quirky, but really appealing and the setting of the new Cape Quarter is stunning. The waitresses were friendly, and left us to catch up on conversation, rather than interupting every five minutes to check on us (I hate over-attentive waiters!). The restaurant also opens up on to the European-style square of the Cape Quarter, which makes it the perfect breakfast spot for the coming summer.

Voila is not only a breakfast spot – they are open for lunch and early evenings too. Their description for their menu us French contemporary which sounds right up my street. I have not yet had the pleasure of trying the rest of their menu, but the atmosphere and breakfast make me sure I will be having a beautiful summer lunch there soon (without fresh juice!).

Voila: Shop 42,Cape Quarter, 27 Somerset Rd, Green Point, 021 421 1237. Breakfast: R40+ Coffee: R15+ Service: Friendly and satisfactory. Open Monday to Saturday 8am-6.30pm and Sunday 8am -3.30pm

Cupcake Magic update

28 Aug

There has been so much interest in this stunning little book. It is available through Kalahari.net for only R121,51 or Exclusives Books for R135.The ISBN number is 9781862058101. Get yourself a copy – even if you seldom use it, it makes a lovely addition to the kitchen shelf. I have discovered that Kate Shirazi has also published Chocolate Magic and Baking Magic. I think I will need to visit the book shop very soon!