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The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Way to Paradise (2003)

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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The interleaved stories of Flora Tristan, a woman and worker’s right advocate in 1840’s France, and her grandson Paul Gauguin, the post-impressionist painter who became famous for his work done in 1890’s Tahiti. Interestingly enough, they have a tie to Vargas Llosa’s home country of Peru; Tristan’s father was part of the most powerful family in Arequipa. He died when she was a small child, but she traveled there as an adult to flee a disastrous marriage and to seek a share of the inheritance, getting exposed to fighting between those vying for power in post-independence Peru in the process.

Vargas Llosa puts their lives side by side, and lets the reader think about what happens over two generations. The two are similar in a few respects: they both find their path late in life, and are courageous in flouting religion and the conventionality of marriage. They’re also both idealists. Tristan tirelessly directs her idealism at equal rights for women and humane conditions for workers, and Gauguin directs his at restoring art (and the human condition) to an unfettered, natural state. In that sense, Tristan wants to push the world into an idealistic future, and Gauguin wants to return it to an idealistic past.

However, they are also very different. Tristan is selfless and altruistic; Gauguin is an egotist of the highest order. Tristan is horrified by the abuses of women and girls; Gauguin is an abuser and profligate, preying on underage Tahitians and undoubtedly knowingly infecting them with the syphilis that is destroying his body. Tristan cares for her children and fights hard to protect her daughter from the sexual abuse of husband; Gauguin abandons his family with hardly a second thought.

The novel has a little bit of everything: 19th century worker’s conditions, the idealist societies and movements that formed within France, such as the Fourierists, marriage law at the time, Peruvian Civil War, Tahiti just as it was beginning to become ‘spoiled’, and insights into Gauguin’s paintings, which were fun to look up while they were described. ( )
1 vote gbill | Oct 11, 2014 |
I just finished The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa. What a fantastic novel! This is the first Llhosa I've read and I'm hooked.

The Way to Paradise is a dual fictionalized biography of Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan, a feminist communist revolutionary. It follows Gauguin's development as an artist through France and Tahiti and Tristan's development into a revolutionary through France, Peru and London.
The stories themselves are interesting, but Llhosa really does some magic with the Gauguin portions of the book. His spirit, decline, and inner journey to find savagery are all just perfectly depicted-- as is the contrast to the colonial rulers and the Maori people. Gauguin is actually reprehensible as a person but Llhosa-- without glossing over his faults-- somehow makes him, if not likeable, understandable, tragic, and human.
The Tristan portions are not quite as impressive. There aren't many male writers who could delve into a woman's psyche and have the results be believable. Llhosa wasn't far off the mark, but it didn't have the same gut-wrenching truth to it as Gauguin's depiction.
The stories are both vulgar and a bit depressing, but I would recommend this novel to almost anyone. Great stories, great writing! 4.5 stars ( )
  technodiabla | Feb 1, 2011 |
told myself that if I couldn’t finish this book by Fourth of July, that I would quit. I just can’t get into the story. I like the alternating narrators, but I feel obligated to continue, and I hate that feeling. Enough. On to something else. ( )
  zenhikers | Jul 1, 2007 |
A fun book to read. More of a kind of historical fiction with Vargas Llosa alternating his chapters between the life of one Florita (Flora) Tristan and that of her grandson the very well known French impressionist painter Paul Gaugin. Flora after a disastrous marriage to a husband-(who's penchant for violence-kidnapping their children, instances of pedophilia and shooting of Flora in the chest and the French governments support of a husbands rights over that of a wifes) forces her to flee from Paris and back to her wealthy and aristocratic relations in Peru--later on returns to Europe with a vengeance having burned her bridges with those same very conservative minded relations. Flora reconstitutes herself as a social reformer arguing for womens and workers rights and setting out an agenda of a Workers Union traveling from French town after French town more often than not meeting open hostility from local authorities and Catholic church officials. One can't help but admire the plucky character (as rendered by MVL) of this woman who dies at the relatively young age of 41 in 1844 waging her lonely battle against the duplicity, ambition, greed and ignorance of a whole host of would be experts and authorities facing off against them head on and often as related in this novel anyway some of the exchanges are hilarious.

And on to the Gauguin chapters--as Paul having been brought up in Peru becomes a sailor first and then a stockbroker on a meteoric rise to the top only to be sidetracked by his friend Schuffenecker who for a hobby paints and initiates Paul into the burgeioning art world of the impressionists. His marriage falling apart--instead of dread he feels a weight being lifted off of him when the economic market collapses and he loses his job because now he can devote himself to his art. He feels a need to unleash the savage part of himself--to renunciate European civilization which leads him eventually to Tahiti and later on to his death in the Marquesas Islands.

Some time ago I wondered here whether or not MVL is deserving of the Nobel--actually I don't wonder much at all because he is a fantastic writer and stories such as this one are a joy (at least for me) to read and this one I would reccommend very strongly. ( )
2 vote lriley | Dec 30, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312424035, Paperback)

A New York Times Notable Book

Flora Tristán, the illegitimate child of a wealthy Peruvian father and French mother, grows up in poverty and journeys to Peru to demand her inheritance. On her return in 1844, she makes her name as a champion of the downtrodden, touring the French countryside to recruit members for her Workers' Union.
In 1891, Flora's grandson, struggling painter and stubborn visionary Paul Gauguin, abandons his wife and five children for life in the South Seas, where his dreams of paradise are poisoned by syphilis, the stifling forces of French colonialism, and a chronic lack of funds, though he has his pick of teenage Tahitian lovers and paints some of his greatest works.

Flora died before her grandson was born, but their travels and obsessions unfold side by side in this double portrait, a rare study in passion and ambition, as well as the obstinate pursuit of greatness in the face of illness and death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:07 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Splitting the narrative between Gauguin's grandmother Tristan's tour of France in 1844, which she made to recruit support for her Workers Union, and Gauguin's life after landing in Tahiti in 1891, Vargas Llosa shows how each sought something--be it social reform or artistic truth--greater than themselves.… (more)

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