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The Way to Paradise: A Novel Paperback – August 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Postimpressionist painter Paul Gauguin's dramatic life inspired Somerset Maugham's classic The Moon and Sixpence; now Vargas Llosa takes his turn re-imagining the artist's story in an intricately detailed novel that also chronicles the life of Gauguin's feminist-socialist grandmother, Flora Trist n. Splitting the narrative between Trist n'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. The illegitimate child of a Peruvian man and a French woman, Trist n flees her villainous husband and makes her way to Peru, where she hopes to claim her inheritance from her late father's Peruvian relatives. When she fails, she returns to Europe and throws herself into radical politics. Gauguin's story is better known-the abdication of bourgeois existence for art; the brief, conflicted cohabitation with Van Gogh; the voyage to Tahiti; the sexual escapades there, and the ravages of syphilis; the final voyage to the Marquesas Islands-and Vargas Llosa tells it carefully. His twin tales achieve force and momentum through the sheer accumulation of detail and the relentlessly chronicled physical decline of both protagonists. But though usually a master of rhetoric and tone, Vargas Llosa loses his footing here, syncopating his account with second-person remarks that condescend to his characters ("Alas, Florita! It was all for the best that it hadn't happened, wasn't it?"; "[Y]ou weren't dreaming of anything so foolish, were you, Paul?"). Flora Trist n deserves to be better known, and this novel should accomplish that goal. But despite Wimmer's excellent translation, Vargas Llosa's latest too often feels like a weighty, unwieldy account of two exciting lives, which does neither its subjects nor its author's past artistry a service.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The great Peruvian man of letters is truly at home in the world at large. He knows the world as only a true cosmopolite does, writing knowledgeably about places far from his native Andean land. Following the staggering historical novel Feast of the Goat (2001), about dictator Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Vargas Llosa now offers another prodigious novel rather in the same vein. It is also a fictional biography--a dual fictional biography, in this case--of the early-nineteenth-century French-Peruvian workers'-rights activist Flora Tristan and her grandson, famous painter Paul Gauguin. In alternating chapters, the author meticulously fashions portraits of these two vibrant individuals as he follows Flora in touring France to carry out her campaign to promote labor organization and equality in marriage, and Paul in awakening to his innate sexuality, to say nothing of tapping into his formidable artistic talent, by abandoning France for the South Pacific. The necessity of personal freedom to express oneself and accomplish one's life's work is at the heart of this novel, which is ripe with detail but never sinks under the plentitude. His avid readership will stand even firmer in their conviction that the truth of Vargas Llosa's genius lies in his ability to deliver vastly intelligent novels that nevertheless pulse with sensuality. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312424035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312424039
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #828,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA was born in Arequipa, Peru, in 1936. In 1958 he earned a scholarship to study in Madrid, and later he lived in Paris. His first story collection, The Cubs and Other Stories, was published in 1959. Vargas Llosa's reputation grew with the publication in 1963 of The Time of the Hero, a controversial novel about the politics of his country. The Peruvian military burned a thousand copies of the book. He continued to live abroad until 1980, returning to Lima just before the restoration of democratic rule.

A man of politics as well as literature, Vargas Llosa served as president of PEN International from 1977 to 1979, and headed the government commission to investigate the massacre of eight journalists in the Peruvian Andes in 1983.

Vargas Llosa has produced critical studies of García Márquez, Flaubert, Sartre, and Camus, and has written extensively on the roots of contemporary fiction. For his own work, he has received virtually every important international literary award. Vargas Llosa's works include The Green House (1968) and Conversation in the Cathedral (1975), about which Suzanne Jill Levine for The New York Times Book Review said: "With an ambition worthy of such masters of the 19th-century novel as Balzac, Dickens and Galdós, but with a technical skill that brings him closer to the heirs of Flaubert and Henry James . . . Mario Vargas Llosa has [created] one of the largest narrative efforts in contemporary Latin American letters." In 1982, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to broad critical acclaim. In 1984, FSG published the bestselling The War of the End of the World, winner of the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta was published in 1986. The Perpetual Orgy, Vargas Llosa's study of Flaubert and Madame Bovary, appeared in the winter of 1986, and a mystery, Who Killed Palomino Molero?, the year after. The Storyteller, a novel, was published to great acclaim in 1989. In 1990, FSG published In Praise of the Stepmother, also a bestseller. Of that novel, Dan Cryer wrote: "Mario Vargas Llosa is a writer of promethean authority, making outstanding fiction in whatever direction he turns" (Newsday).

In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran for the presidency of his native Peru. In 1994, FSG published his memoir, A Fish in the Water, in which he recorded his campaign experience. In 1994, Vargas Llosa was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and, in 1995, the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded to writers whose work expresses the idea of the freedom of the individual in society. In 1996, Death in the Andes, Vargas Llosa's next novel, was published to wide acclaim. Making Waves, a collection of his literary and political essays, was published in 1997; The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, a novel, was published in 1998; The Feast of the Goat, which sold more than 400,000 copies in Spanish-language, was published in English in 2001; The Language of Passion, his most recent collection of nonfiction essays on politics and culture, was published by FSG in June 2003. The Way to Paradise, a novel, was published in November 2003; The Bad Girl, a novel, was published in the U.S. by FSG in October, 2007. His most recent novel, El Sueño del Celta, will be published in 2011 or 2012. Two works of nonfiction are planned for the near future as well.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on November 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If Mario Vargas Llosa had not lost the election to Alberto Fujimori in the late 1980s and had become president of Peru, it's interesting to imagine how that country would be faring today. What we do know is that the literary world would have missed this writer of intelligent, politically-influenced fiction. With "Feast of the Goat" and now with "The Way to Paradise," Vargas Llosa turns his astute gaze to Europe and the Pacific, and demonstrates that he can write masterfully about cultures and countries other than his own.
In the new book he traces the life of painter Paul Gauguin and his grandmother, the socialist feminist Flora Tristan. Set in France and the South Pacific with a brief sojourn in Peru, he charts the courses of two related people who never knew each other, and whose lives were similar in that they found the conventions of their times impossible to live with.
Flora Tristan grew up in poverty as the illegitimate daughter of a French mother and a Peruvian father. Her marriage was abusive and she escaped her husband to reinvent herself as a popular writer and campaigner for workers' rights. Despite failing health, she tours the small towns of France recruiting members for her Workers' Union. Her grandson Paul abandons his large family and friendship with other painters to escape to Tahiti to paint. Riddled with syphilis, his health is failing as well.
Natasha Wimmer's translation is excellent. There are scenes that glow with the golden light of Arles or sting with the scent of the sea.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on August 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
At first glance, The Way To Paradise is a classic example of Mario Vargas Llosa's style: interesting and unusual characters, colorful settings, poetic prose. The book even uses Mr. Vargas Llosa's preferred device of switching between narratives in alternating chapters as he did with such great success in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Feast of the Goat, among others.

But in the end, I think, the story falls well short of those other two wonderful books, for a variety of reasons that left me puzzled.

First, I'll add my name to the chorus of reviewers who were left confused by Mr. Vargas Llosa's decision to pepper his narrative with second-hand comments from the book's two main characters (especially with Flora Tristán, who seems to ask herself at least once every page something like "but you could not have known that, could you, Flora?").

More importantly, the style of alternating chapters between the story of Ms. Tristán, a 19th century social reformer, and her grandson Paul Gauguin, the painter, doesn't work nearly as well here as it does elsewhere. That is mostly because the two stories have very little to do with each other. Ms. Tristán and Mr. Gauguin were related -- though they never met each other -- but aside from a few passing and insignificant comments by Mr. Gauguin about his grandmother, one story line never crossed. Are you interested in the story of Ms. Tristán's epic battle to mobilize workers in France in the 1840s? Then read the odd-numbered chapters. Do you prefer the story of the famous painter of Tahiti and Tahitians around the turn of the 20th Century? Then skip the odd and read only the even-numbered installments.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 7, 1997
Format: Paperback
I rate this book 10, because it embodies in one text a story so powerful from a personal and political point of view. The story deals with a group of army cadets in Lima, their pasts and their presents, and what will potentially be a future shaped for them by the serious injury of one of their troop while on army manouvers.
The story that unfolds from this, interwoven with the power struggle that goes on between the forces of good and humanity and evil faceless silence of the army leaves you breathless. Not everyone will appreciate this book, but there are those out there that owe it to themselves to read this book and learn. Not just about peruvians themselves, but the deep forces of power, ruthlessness and betrayal that power the human race itself
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lauren Mitchell on September 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've now read several of Vargas Llosa's novels and I am a HUGE fan, actually, but this particular novel didn't strike me in quite the same way. It is an earlier novel than most of the others that I have read by him--this is a schoolboy/military academy novel that Vargas Llosa wrote during the Latin American Boom in Literature. Imagine "A Separate Peace" set in a Latin American Military Academy, in fact. (Except that it is also written in the less traditional, non-chronological narrative format favored by many of the Boom writers, who were all admirers of Modernists such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and William Faulkner.)

There really isn't any particular reason that I can pinpoint that I enjoyed it somewhat less than the other novels that I have read by Vargas Llosa--and I would recommend it to other readers. The way that the non-chronological narrative veils certain things about the story might frustrate some readers, but others might find that very element of the novel to be an intriguing selling point. Especially if you're interested in Vargas Llosa, the Latin American Boom, or Latin American literature in general, this is a must read, despite my own personal preference for some of his other novels.

(I would highly recommend "Death in the Andes," "The Storyteller" and "The Feast of the Goat," all by Vargas Llosa, as well as "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.)
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