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The Way to Paradise Paperback – 4 Nov 2004
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The Way to Paradise weaves an extraordinarily rich double fantasia around Gauguin's life, strenuously explores qualities in the works, and sets moral issues in a far wider, more real historical world ... riveting stuff, beautifully written, wild, exact, and visually stunning. (Ruth Padel Independent)
The visionary painter of paradise [Gauguin] emerges as a misunderstood genius of the kind it takes a genius like Mario Vargas Llosa to understand. (Guardian)
Vargas Llosa's storytelling gifts are pretty much unrivalled ... His recreation of the tactile, sensuous, brilliant, whiffy details of the everyday is superb ... a fabulously abundant book. (Katherine Sale Financial Times)
What makes the novel so illuminating is the continuity between [the] parallel lives ... The novel is highly accomplished and teems with characters, ideas and incident. (Sebastian Shakespeare Literary Review)
Oddly affecting ... an engrossing, sometimes horrifying image of social conditions in France [from] one of the great Latin American novelists of his time. (The New York Times Book Review)
Fascinating ... vivid ... it's in [Gauguin's] part of the story, so full of the contradictions of this yearning, difficult man, that Vargas Llosa makes the book come alive. (Time)
Through his characters Vargas Llosa [captures] much of the liberationist spirit of the nineteenth century, the great romantic desire to escape the cramping bonds of tradition, whatever the cost. (Washington Post)
The Way to Paradise by the Nobel Prize-winner Mario Vargas Llosa interweaves the story of the painter Paul Gauguin with that of his grandmother, Flora Tristan.See all Product description
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This book deals with a group of cadets at Peru's premier military academy. The superficial order of their parades masks a world of corruption, bribery, sadistic bullying and yet also of togetherness. But the bullying comes to a head with a tragic "accident" which leads everyone to reveal their true colours.
In portraying the relationship between the lower ranks and the officers, and the way in which everyone is out to defend their own interests except for those who lose out the most, Vargas Llosa again hits the heart of the corruption and self-serving motives behind so many politicans - a theme which he took up again in CONVERSATION IN THE CATHEDRAL, another one of his books that is highly recommended (as are THE WAR OF THE END OF THE WORLD, THE STORYTELLER and AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER). It's perhaps difficult to believe that the author of these books could go on to stand for the right in Peru's presidential elections - but, if anything, THE TIME OF THE HERO, shows that Vargas Llosa does at least understand the rottenness and misery that lies beneath the polished veneer of urban society in Latin American cities.
The tale of the cadets is interwoven with accounts of the lives of some of them before and during their time at the academy, mixing the personal (which illustrates the essence of Limenyo culture) with the universal as reflected in the stories of the cadets.
What is perhaps most impressive of all about this brilliant novel is that Vargas Llosa was only 26 when he wrote it. That shows above all what a precocious talent he was when he wrote this - for this great novel is better than anything which most writers could produce, even if at the height of their powers. Roll on THE FEAST OF THE GOAT - I can't wait.
Paul Gauguin is already moderately famous when we join him. He has already lived with the 'mad Dutchman' (Van Gogh) in Arles and I loved being able to accurately visualise these scenes based on our recent visit. Llosa follows Gauguin to Brittany and then to Tahiti where his dissolute lifestyle and failing health both drive him to paint masterpieces and to descend into alcoholism and decrepitude. Llosa writes in a blend of third and second person narration which I found especially effective in allowing us to understand the minds of both Paul and Flora. Paul's desperation to become a part of Tahitian society while also remaining aloof enough to observe as an artist, and lacking the cultural history to fully comprehend Maori beliefs and attitudes is wonderfully poignant. Llosa takes time to immerse his readers in several of Paul's paintings as they are created and I enjoyed viewing them online with such insights. Plus I don't think I have read a death so delicately and powerfully portrayed since I read Jack London's To Build A Fire.
Flora Tristan's story is set fifty years before Paul's and I cannot believe that I had never heard of this amazing woman before. We follow her on a tour of France as she endeavours to recruit downtrodden labourers to her Worker's Union, a socialist concept that she devised herself. Llosa uses her travels to highlight the vast social differences in 1840s France with some disturbing descriptions of then standard working conditions. I became almost as frustrated as Flora at the workers failure to understand how they could use her ideas to help themselves - much like The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - and their frequent dismissal of her words simply because of her gender. With Flora, we also travel to her lavish Peruvian ancestral home and I learned of her real-life memoir, Peregrinations Of A Pariah which I would now love to read. (If anyone knows where I can download an English language version, please let me know!)
In The Way To Paradise I think Llosa has written an amazing book which kept me glued to its pages despite its long-for-me 424 small print pages. I felt completely part of both Paul's and Flora's worlds even though I found it almost impossible to feel any sympathy for Paul at all, and Flora is so dedicated to her cause that she really isn't always likeable! Brilliant book!
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