Tag-Archive for ◊ hardship ◊

Author:
• Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Mario Vargas Llosa was born into a middle class family in Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, in 1936. His parents were separated a short time before his birth. Llosa spent his early childhood with his mother and maternal grandparents in Cochabamba in Bolivia, being falsely told by his mother that his father had died. Ten years later his parents reconciled, causing an abrupt change to Llosa’s life because, after being pampered by his mother and grandparents, he now found himself with an authoritarian, severe father. In 1947 Llosa went to the Christian middle school, Colegio La Salle.

Discovering his only child’s passion for writing when in his early teens, Ernesto Vargas, Llosa’s dictatorial father, wanting to prevent him pursuing a literary career – which he considered good for idle rich people – sent him to the rigidly disciplined Leoncion Prado Military Academy in Lima. This period will later be described by Llosa in his first novel, The Time Of The Hero, published in 1963 as “the discovery of hell”.

Living in a country led by an oppressive dictator and having a despotic father will make Llosa fight strongly to condemn any stifling, abhorrent dictatorship that suppresses individual freedom in any shape or form.

After dropping out of the academy, Llosa pursued his studies in Piura, north of Peru, while working as a journalist for a local newspaper. In 1953 Llosa studied literature and law at the National University of San Marcos and in 1958 won a scholarship to study in Madrid and later went to live in Paris. Llosa became a journalist, an essayist and a politician, running unsuccessfully in the presidential elections of 1990.

Mario Vargas Llosa is a prolific writer, having written many novels, non-fiction and drama. He has also received numerous awards and honours including the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature about which he was informed in a telephone call received in New York when teaching a semester at Princeton University. He has been married twice and has three children from his second wife.

The Way To Paradise recounts, in alternating twenty-two chapters and by moving back and forth, the historical biographical story of two extraordinary destinies: the post-impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin, and his illegitimate, socialist reformer and feminist grandmother, Flora Tristan. Flora was born to a wealthy Peruvian father and French mother and grew up in poverty following her aristocrat father’s death when she was just four years old. At the time, French law did not recognise her parents’ marriage and consequently she did not inherit her father’s estate as she was considered an illegitimate child.

Flora, who died in 1844 at the age of forty-one, never saw her grandson, Gauguin, born in 1848. Although they didn’t know each other and apart from their kinship, they both had one target, namely to aspire to achieve an insatiable and unrealistic dream in order to reach their much-coveted paradise on earth.

Flora wanted a complete change in the society of her time, where workers were poor, crushed and exploited by factory owners who worked them hard for a pittance in an unhealthy environment, while the destitute women and children were earning half a pittance for the same work. Flora was also campaigning for women to have a dignified and better life, whether they were poor, enslaved women workers or enslaved bourgeois women. Her fight for workers’ rights and women’s equality and emancipation from oppression is unprecedented and well ahead of her time.

In order to achieve her goal, Flora doesn’t spare any effort. She abandons her three children and André Chazal, the husband she detests and who made her hate sex. During the last months of her life she tours incessantly all over France for the sake of promoting her cause, travelling from town to city to recruit members for her Workers’ Union and encouraging workers to unite because unity is strength against the exploiters.

She publishes many works, her best-known being: Peregrinations Of A Pariah, published in 1838, Promenades In London in 1840 and her famous final work, The Workers’ Union in 1843, in which she criticises capitalism and its exploitation of workers in France. She is sometimes made fun of, threatened and rebuked but never gives-up her dream.

As for Gauguin, he quits his successful, well-paid job as a stockbroker in Paris in 1884 at the age of thirty-six and decides to become a full time artist. Soon after he abandons his Danish wife, Mette Gad, and his five children. In order to escape the civilised world, he looks for an unspoilt life in rural Brittany, in Pont-Aven then close by in Le Pouldu where he “went in search of the savagery and primitivism that seemed to him fertile ground for the flourishing of great art”. After a short, unfortunate conflictual cohabitation with Van Gogh in Arles, he travels to Panama followed by Martinique then Tahiti, which he finds a disappointment having been defiled by French colonialism.

Frustrated when realising that things are not as easy as he imagines and that his dream might never be fulfilled, and now consumed by syphilis, he goes to Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia which he thinks has maybe been slightly less spoilt by French colonialism, but to no avail. He spends the last two years of his life there and is buried in 1903 in the cimetière Calvaire, the main cemetery on the island, leaving behind a great collection of paintings, ceramics and wood carvings. Although not given the recognition deserved during his lifetime, after his death Gauguin’s paintings have made him immortal.

Gauguin believed that art had to be subjective to represent the artist’s vision and what goes through an artist’s mind and soul, he said when he was in Le Pouldu near Pont-Aven in Brittany: “Art is abstraction; draw art as you dream in nature’s presence, and think more about the act of creation than about the final result”.

The two lives had their differences: Flora was more concentrated on awakening the working classes to their rights in order to forge a better, brighter future for them, while her grandson, Gauguin, was searching everywhere for the unspoilt, “uncivilised” past. Nevertheless, Gauguin’s life was more colourful and interesting than his grandmother Flora’s, who spent a great deal of her time indefatigably touring in France, organising endless workers’ meetings to recruit support for her workers’ union.

They also had their similarities: Flora and her grandson Gauguin, both rebelled against the establishment and had one objective in mind, their endeavour to liberate themselves from the traditionalist society of their time. They were both obstinately tenacious in their quest, stoically enduring the hardship they encountered as well as both suffering lingering illnesses leading to their deaths. In order to reach their ideals, they both courageously reject the comfortable, bourgeois existence they could have both lived and opt instead for the hard struggle in the hope of attaining their idealistic life.

The Way To Paradise, although slow-moving and repetitive at times, is a well-researched novel. It is a fascinating double biography of a grandmother and her grandson who, through their eagerness, strong ambition and obstinacy, were unstoppable in their endeavours thus leaving their mark on the history of humanity.

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Author:
• Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Marie Ndiaye is a French national, born in 1967 in Pithiviers, France to a French mother and a Senegalese father. Her parents separated when she was one-year-old with her father leaving for Africa and her eldest brother and herself being brought up in the Parisian suburb of Bourg-la-Reine by their teacher mother.

After finishing primary and secondary schools, NDiaye went to the Sorbonne to study linguistics, which led to her obtaining a grant from the French Academy to stay in the Villa Médicis in Rome.

NDiaye started writing in her teens with her first novel, “Quant au riche avenir”, published in 1985 when she was eighteen years old. She is the most widely read and critically acclaimed, living French writer. To date she has written adults’ and children’s novels, short stories, plays, an essay and a screen play. She received the prix Femina in 2001 for “Rosie Carpe” and the distinguished prix Goncourt in 2009 for Three Strong Women. Her stage play: “Papa doit manger”, became part of the repertory of the prestigious, Comédie Française in 2003.

Marie NDiaye left France in 2007 after Nicolas Sarkozy became president and currently lives with her husband and their three children in Berlin.

Three Strong Women was originally published in French in 2009 and in English in 2012.

Three women, three different fates and two countries: France and Senegal. In the three novellas that form this book, three women: Norah, the lawyer, Fanta, the former literature teacher and Khady Demba, the uneducated servant who becomes a childless widow, all fight against the adversity of life with an unparalleled obsessive determination.

The three stories are loosely intertwined. When Norah, in the first story, is urgently called by her estranged, unloving, overbearing, uncaring father, to leave Paris and join him in Senegal to defend her imprisoned brother, Sony, in court, she meets Khady who works in her father’s house as a maid. Norah is in her late thirties, a successful lawyer in Paris and has a seven-year-old daughter, Lucie. Norah has a complicated life. She has been living a frustratingly unhappy year of her life with her unruly, unemployed, German partner, Jakob, and his seven-year-old daughter, Grete.

In the second story, the Senegalese, Fanta, like her husband Rudy, a French literature teacher in the reputable lycée Mermoz in Dakar, has to quit her job for a teaching position in France promised by Rudy. She follows her disgraced French husband to his native province, la Gironde, in the south west of France with their young son Djibril. Once in France and without a job, Fanta becomes unhappy and reclusive. We learn about her through her lonely failure of a husband, Rudy, who feels remorse for inflicting his low self-esteem torment on his wife. He is depressed, paranoid and suffers from chronic haemorrhoids.

The same Khady Demba, the maid in the first story reappears a few years later in the third story as a destitute, childless widow. She is forced by her in-laws to emigrate to France and send them money after receiving help from a distant cousin, Fanta, who is regarded as being rich because she is teaching and therefore earning a good salary.

Khady Demba, like Norah and Fanta, is not easily deterred in the face of adversity. With an imponderable pride and a discreet unshakeable assurance, she keeps telling herself: I am me, Khady Demba. She is young, healthy and unstoppable. She knows she has nothing, really nothing to lose and additionally she has been told by her mother-in-law before leaving, that if things go wrong she is not to return back to live with them.

The author gives an insight into three types of migration between Africa and Europe and in the case of Khady Demba, the big problem of loss of life among the “Boat people” who are putting themselves in danger in the hope of better living conditions in “rich” European countries.

Through her lengthy (paragraph length) sentences and her incomparable style of writing, NDiaye describes in depth and with great accuracy, in her triptych, the suffering, unhappiness, despair and endurance as well as the distress and painful life of three women. The three protagonists don’t share the same background but nevertheless have a determination for survival and enduring hardship in common, in order to reach their target and impose their identity in a patriarchal world.

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