The Way to Paradise A Novel

Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated by Natasha Wimmer




Trade Paperback

464 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book

In 1844, the famous socialist agitator and memoirist Flora Tristán embarked on a tour of France to campaign for workers' and women's rights. In 1891, her grandson Paul Gauguin set sail for Tahiti, determined to escape civilization and paint primitive masterpieces. Flora died before her grandson was born, but their travels and obsessions unfold side by side in this deft, utterly absorbing novel from one of Latin America's most celebrated writers.

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

Affectionate, astute, and quietly caustic, this double portrait is a rare study in passion and ambition, and of the obstinate pursuit of greatness in the face of illness and death. The Way to Paradise is a worthy successor to Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, which "pushed the boundaries of the traditional historical novel [in] a book of harrowing power and lasting emotional resonance" (The New York Times).


Praise for The Way to Paradise

"Through his characters, Vargas Llosa [captures] much of the liberationist spirit of the 19th century, the great romantic desire to escape the cramping bonds of tradition, whatever the cost. His stylistic virtuosity with authorial voice commands admiration."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"The juxtaposition of Tristan's and Gauguin's stories is fascinating."—Richard Lacayo, Time

"[A] fluid melding of Vargas Llosa's usual biting sociopolitical commentary with actual history . . . Meticulously researched [and] seductively written . . . Vargas Llosa proffers a compelling narrative interwoven with sharp social and political commentary, the technique that has rightfully cast him as one of South America's best writers."—Judith M. Redding, The Baltimore Sun

"Vargas Llosa is an archaeologist of human complexity . . . His new novel, The Way to Paradise, is especially welcome. It is rich in paradox, in the often roundabout, land-mined pathways to fulfilment."—Dan Cryer, Newsday

"The Way to Paradise is [Vargas Llosa's] first novel of ideas; it is concerned with the aesthetic and political beliefs that move his two central characters, Paul Gauguin, and his grandmother, the feminist social thinker Flora Tristan. In that sense the novel breaks new ground, but Vargas Llosa remains the flesh-and-blood novelist he has always been. Flora's and Gauguin's ideas are shown to be part of their characters and to stem from the detail of their lives . . . Vargas Llosa shows how two people who are at opposite ideological poles can be emotionally very similar. Gauguin and Flora are both stubborn, single-minded utopians, willing to give up everything, including health, happiness, and family, on their way to the paradise they are certain they will reach. Vargas Llosa brings Flora to life and elicits our sympathy for her pioneering feminism, but it is Gauguin's tormented creative quest which is at the heart of the 0 novel. Using books and letters, Vargas Llosa recreates the circumstances in which Gauguin painted his masterpieces, and provides illuminating, if sometimes controversial, insights into his work . . . The achievement of The Way to Paradise is its study of ideological and emotional contrasts in two Europeans. Mario Vargas Llosa's limpid, unpretentious prose does not pose serious problems for the translator. Natasha Wimmer's English version reads well."—David Gallagher, The Times Literary Supplement

"The bold, dynamic, and endlessly productive imagination of the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the writing giants of our time, is something truly to be admired. It feeds almost always on the material of history and transforms such matter into fiction quite personal without ever losing the effect of universality. Nothing demonstrates this better than his latest novel, The Way to Paradise . . . As with any great writer, Vargas Llosa makes us see clearly what we have been looking at all the while but never noticed . . . The ephemeral nature of social and aesthetic perfection comes to life in this dense and fascinating novel of ideas . . . In this, the master Peruvian novelist's first truly international novel, the canvases of these lives light up with the glow of his passion, even as his subjects struggle to flame on, then sputter out and die."—Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

"[Gauguin and Tristan are] monstrously resolute heroes who embolden and repel [and] ideal subjects for a crackerjack study of divergent and, inevitably, futile quests for the ideal . . . With characteristic sympathy ad cunning, [Vargas Llosa] composes a richly layered elegy for a fascinating pair of dreamers."—The Miami Herald

"An ambitious balancing act . . . [Vargas Llosa's] latest intellectual romp is one of his most engaging."—Jori Finkel, Art & Auction

"Rich language . . . A great writer on his favorite subject: the madness, the fervor, the suffering, and the foolishness of creative people."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"A stunning vision embroidered with characteristic technical touches-quicksilver flashbacks and the circular foreshadowing of certain events."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Intriguing . . . compelling . . . powerful. As he has done in the past, Vargas Llosa explores the shared ground between artists and political activists."—The San Diego Union Tribune

"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 Tristán."—Publishers Weekly

"With matchless empathy and insight, the great Peruvian author analyzes two contrasting quests for the ideal. Dual narratives alternate the stories of two fascinating historical characters: early feminist social activist Flora Tristan (1803-44), of mixed Peruvian and French heritage, and her grandson (who never knew her), the great French rebel-painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Employing both omniscient narration and a teasing, confrontational second-person address, Vargas Llosa juxtaposes Flora's pursuit (throughout a tour of southern France) of her vision of an international 'Worker's Union' with Gauguin's flight from his Danish wife and five children (in the wake of the 1881 Paris stock market crash) to the South Seas islands, motivated by desires for artistic success and to submerge himself in a 'pagan, happy culture, unashamed of the body and untainted by the decadent notion of sin.' This is a formidable, learned novel that embraces the conflicting opinions of social theorists (Fourier, Saint-Simon, Proudhon, et al.) with whom Flora does intellectual battle; 19th-century political history, and rival artistic theories and practices (expressed, e.g., in Gauguin's memories of his combative friendship with 'the mad Dutchman' Vincent van Gogh). It's also a replete and lively story, whose assured construction and pacing very gradually reveal such crucial life patterns and details as Flora's abandonment of her abusive husband and her children and discovery of sexual fulfillment with a sympathetic Polish demimondaine, and Gauguin's aggressive grasp of liberation, awakening artistic consciousness, and exhausted surrender to the ravages of syphilis. It's Gauguin's conflicted odyssey that stimulates Vargas Llosa's imagination most powerfully. But there isn't a page of this magnificently imagined and orchestrated story that does not vibrate with the energy and mystery of felt, and fully comprehended, life. It's hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?"—Kirkus Reviews

0 "The tragic and romantic life of artist Paul Gauguin has long been an inspiration for writers of fiction: Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence was based loosely on his story, and Gauguin himself wrote an autobiographical novel. Now Peruvian literary giant and unsuccessful presidential contender Vargas Llosa weighs in with the unique twist of pairing Gauguin's career with that of his indomitable Peruvian grandmother. Flora Tristan, the bastard daughter of a French mother and a wealthy Peruvian, tirelessly campaigned for the rights of the downtrodden in order to forge an alliance of women and workers, while her grandson, who was born after her untimely death at 41, abandoned his conventional life in Paris in 1891 for the South Sea islands, where he roamed with teenaged beauties and painted masterpieces that changed the direction of Western art. In alternating chapters, Vargas Llosa vividly depicts the travels, sorrows, and wrangling with the Catholic Church that absorbed the energies of these two remarkable people. Highly recommended."—Jack Shreve, Allegany College of Maryland, Cumberland, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



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MARIO VARGAS LLOSA was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Peru’s foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.
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  • Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated by Natasha Wimmer

  • Mario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Peru’s foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa Morgana Vargas Llosa