The Way to Paradise (Mario Vargas Llosa, 2003)

Vargas Llosa knows where paradise lies

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa , Natasha Wimmer (Translator) Kindle Edition , 464 pages Published March 4th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2003)
The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa , Natasha Wimmer (Translator) Kindle Edition , 464 pages Published March 4th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2003)

Blinded by syphilis, rotting alive, Paul Gauguin, just before his death, attempts to turn the wild secret of the South Seas into color. Around 50 years earlier, Flora Tristán heads to the shantytowns of major European cities, she sees the excesses of prostitution in London, the adverse conditions of workers, their wives and children in Paris.

The revolution of modernity has different faces. Mario Vargas Llosa, in his most recent novel “Paradise Elsewhere” (“El Paraíso en la otra Esquina”, 2003), dedicated himself to the portrait of two notable nineteenth-century rebels: the artistic revolutionary Gauguin and the social fighter Flora Tristán.

The amazing thing: Beyond biological affinity – Gauguin is a grandson of Flora – Vargas Llosa discovers mental parallels in seemingly contrasting, incoherent lives. The author alternately presents a chapter from the life of Flora and one of the Gauguin, creating a mutual illumination, contrasting and, above all, a consequent parallelization of destinies, visions and ideas. It is incomprehensible because it seems to be two stories that would be better told separately; unbelievable, because the reader then realizes: the historically founded biographies and circumstances describe one and the same fight against the civilized civilization with all its injustices. “Paradise is Elsewhere” is a book about the social and artistic revolution of modernity, which has brought spiritual history into the 20th century – and within 50 years, within a family – within a book. A real trick full of seditious speech.

The novel begins with the rebellion of the characters: Flora, abused by her rightful husband, raped and charged in court, persecuted by the police, who passes escaped wives to the hangman, has declared war on French civilization. From then on she fights in pamphlets such as “L’Union ouvrière” or “The Rides of a Paria” – to whose new edition (2004) Vargas Llosa wrote the preface – for social justice for workers and women. She moves from city to city, hostile to the authorities, and collects supporters for her modern state concept. Paul Gauguin, on the other hand, has no reason to complain about his fate: he sits firmly in the saddle of the company as a well-paid stock exchange employee. But he catapults himself from civilization into barbarism. At the age of 30, he discovers his passion for painting and questions the way of life of his time. He flees from bourgeoisie and marriage to the land of savages, freedom, simplicity and sexual freedom. From then on, he paints with his South Sea images against the social concept of the Western world.

This struggle, culminating in both Flora and Gauguin’s destruction of the family and the self, in dire illness and agonizing death, unites the two characters. They are rebels against the fetters of society. Both have their reckless visions: they dream of paradise. Vargas Llosa combines this central theme with a children’s game that spans the novel and meets Gauguin and Flora. The game is the search for the lost paradise, which continues in an endless chain of hope and disappointment, for a lifetime, across generations. For Gauguin, paradise is the wildness, the natural people. However, first in Tahiti, then on the Marquesas, he has to realize that the western world has already arrived. This does not change his attempts to incite the natives to resistance. For Flora, paradise is the overcoming of wildness, the creation of a true, just civilization. And here you realize: Where the ideas of Flora and Paul intersect, they begin to diverge. Both want something similar, only with different means, with different motivation. Thus, in the first Gauguin chapters, the sexual act of the painter is portrayed with ruthless language and attention to detail as a means of self-realization. Sometimes too shocking for the reader. But the intention has succeeded: Gauguin should not be stylized alone to the artistic innovator. Vargas Llosa also provides the reader with the dark side of the French, who seemed to be sucking out his environment for his own inspiration. The woman as a sexually subordinate and exploited being (“She was just a pair of sweaty thighs, a pair of firm breasts, one sex”) – this is the point where Gauguin and his grandmother are diametrically opposed.

Overall, “Paradise is Elsewhere” has from the beginning a pull that makes you forget the thickness of 500 pages. The novel is not only colorful and varied, but extremely well researched and descriptive. Vargas Llosa tells so aptly that the images that arise in the mind’s eye, surprisingly coincide with the original paintings. A misunderstanding in the German edition is there only the cover picture – although a major work Gauguin from the South Seas, “Nafea fea ipoipo – When do you marry?”, But not described by Vargas Llosa in the novel. Suhrkamp would have preferred to choose “Pape moe” or “Manao tupapao – the spirit of the dead wakes”, which are important in the novel.

But the art-historical heart is reconciled when it goes back to the narrative that quotes the nineteenth-century history of artistic development: from Gauguin’s break with Impressionism in the guise of his friend and teacher Camille Pissarro about Van Gogh’s vision of an artistic community the color theory Zumbul-Zadés (“Paper Gauguin”) to the influence of Edouard Manet on the impressionists and post-Impressionists – Vargas Llosa knows all this.

The greatest recommendation for a fascinating book full of struggle and zest for action, which incites the reader to cheer, to investigate, to learn more about Gauguin, his paintings and his unusual grandmother, the visions of the 19th century and the social and artistic ideas of the time.

The Way to Paradise
by Mario Vargas Llosa , Natasha Wimmer (Translator)
Kindle Edition , 464 pages
Published March 4th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2003)

Memories of my melancholy whores (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 2004)

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez, Edith Grossman (Translator)
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
by Gabriel García Márquez, Edith Grossman (Translator)

Gabriel Garcia Márquez ‘novel “Memories of my melancholy whores”

“Sex is the only a comfort when love is not enough,” is one of the key words in the new novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. This slim work by the 77-year-old Nobel Prize winner from 1982 is all about love, unfulfilled yearnings, disappointments and newly discovered great emotions. That would not be exciting if the author had not made a 90-year-old journalist the protagonist of his work.

Thus, we experience how an elderly man as an narrator turns his innermost outward, looks back on his life and is inspired by the desire to give himself a night with a maiden on his 90th birthday. Never was the loner, who comes from a privileged Latin American family, never married (except to his mother) a strong emotional attachment to women, but having sex with over 500 whores. “I have never slept with a woman without paying for it.”

A friendly brothel owner communicates to the protagonist a beautiful 14-year-old girl who, while not reading and writing, works as a button seamstress in a large textile factory. But the desires of the amazingly vital protagonist after a wild night of love abruptly turn into an almost reverent, subaltern attitude. The elderly man looks at the sleeper like a work of art, scanning it with his eyes in admiration, inching in and out, captivated by the sight alone, and later reads out to the sleeper the “little prince”. Eros and intellect converge to a symphony of late happiness.

Inspired by the late work “The Sleeping Beauty” by the Japanese Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata, Márquez has presented a glaring, pathetic word painting about the discovery of love in old age. Although this may seem badly constructed, it is enchantingly colorful and sensually narrated, so that you, as a reader, move completely detached to the side of the enamored seniors and walk with him numbly on the paths you just discovered the desire to love.

However, the great emotions and ambience described are almost antagonistic to each other. Corruption flourishes, political conditions are unstable, an all-powerful censor watches over the press, settles down, poverty and everyday violence elude the central European imagination as well as the torrential rain showers.

In the midst of this chaos, the main character discovers new facets of her inner life. The Sunday columns, which he still writes in a flourishing handwriting with the pen, read from now on like camouflaged love letters, and as the adored teenager disappears for a few days, arouse feelings of jealousy and revenge (“a satanic charm that she exerted on me” ) with the protagonist. He blindly destroys a brothel because he suspects a plot and is later appalled by the consequences of his devastation.

Garcia Márquez, the author of the great novels Chronicle of a Heralded Death, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Hundred Years of Solitude, deliberately left the end of this enchanting story (a novel rather than a novel) in the balance. From an acquaintance, the protagonist in the end only gets the advice to fight the young girl. The “real life”, we learn on the last page, he has discovered after his 90th Birthday and derived so much energy that he is already looking forward to his hundredths.

Gabriel Garcia Márquez has presented a contemporary fairy tale, emotionally vibrating and musically down to the last line – a material from which a great opera could be made.

The author seems to live and work as energetically as his main character. In addition to the second volume of his memoirs (“Life to tell about it”) are also new stories under the title “en agosto nos vemos” (Eng. “We’ll see each other in August”) announced.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores
by Gabriel García Márquez, Edith Grossman (Translator)
Mass Market Paperback, First Vintage International Open-Market Edition, 115 pages Published November 2006 by Vintage International (first published October 19th 2004)