I found this in the second-hand shop, and I’m glad I did. I assume it had been donated as Vargas Llosa isn’t much liked in some parts of Catalan society – having lived in Barcelona for many years he supports the Spanish government, but no Catalan will deny he is an excellent author. He is one of the foremost Latin American authors, and is renowned for both modernist and post-modernist writings. The Way to Paradise is one of his more recent novels, having been published in 2003, and it is extremely different to the other novel I have read by him, The Time of the Hero from forty years before. One thing I find intriguing about this novel straight away is the difference in the original title, El paraíso en la otro esquina which could, or should, be translated to The Paradise in the Other Corner, but the debate about translating novels could be continued throughout time.
The Way to Paradise follows two story-lines, both of which are biographical. The first follows the life Flora Tristan, a founder of the feminist movement, socialist writer and activist. Llosa’s novel follows her life as she travels around France trying to gain support for her organisation “The Workers ‘Union”. Using illness induced flashbacks and her memories, Llosa tells us about her formative years; her unhappy marriage, her children and her visits to Peru and Britain. Flora is shown throughout the novel as a brave and outspoken woman; her rivals paint her as a slut, seductress and adulterer as they try to undermine her attempts at creating her version of Paradise.
In the alternate chapters we read of the life of Paul Gauguin, despite being Tristan’s grandson they never met. These chapters are set in the period when Gauguin lived in French Polynesia, during his own search for Paradise. Again using memories, these during periods of drug use, we see how and why Gauguin is in this part of the world. Llosa must have researched this period of Gauguin’s life, and effectively imagines the thoughts and feelings of the famous painter, but Gauguin is portrayed in the novel as part lunatic and part tortured genius.
In all this novel is excellent, it was a really interesting insight into the lives of two influential figures. I particularly found it incredible that they both seemed to be searching for a paradise, that may not actually exist. Llosa is an excellent writer, and in this novel he shows why, writing anything biographical is challenging, but to make it entertaining is harder.