Tag-Archive for ◊ meetings ◊

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:
• Monday, April 27th, 2009

Jon McGregor was born in Bermuda in 1976 while his father was appointed as a vicar there. The third of four siblings, he spent his childhood in Norwich,Thetford in Norfolk, England, where he later joined Bradford University to study Media Technology and Production.

He started writing during his final year at university. He had a short fiction published by Granta magazine, and a short story : While You Where Sleeping, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He now lives in Nottingham with his wife.

Jon McGregor has to date written two novels: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things published in 2002 which won several awards and So Many Ways to Begin, published in 2006 and which took Jon McGregor three years to write and was short listed for the Encore Award in 2007 and long listed for the Man Booker Prize.

So Many Ways to Begin has an uncomplicated, slow-paced plot of an uneventful story of love, disappointments, frustrations, resentment and family secrets. A sad story where “chances” play a big part. The author recognises and celebrates the triumph of love over the hardship that life brings; it’s emphasized by the undying and intact love of David Carter for his adopted mother, Dorothy and to his wife Eleanor.

David Carter, a museum curator, dreams of one day having his own museum and leading a happy and peaceful life with the girl he loves and marries. But he ends up having his dreams and his wife’s dreams slowly suppressed and shuttered in the commotions of everyday life.

His wife, not being able to continue her studies to become a geologist, often succumbs to debilitating bouts of depression and he will never own a museum, or even succeed in keeping his job as a curator in the Coventry museum and ends up without even achieving a career.

His life will take a different turn when he finds out, inadvertently, in his early twenties, that he was an adopted child. His hunt for the truth and the search for his biological mother will begin without success. But he doesn’t give up, and when he reaches his fifties he goes on another journey of self-discovery by working out all the missing pieces of the past to unravel his roots and in order to find his own identity and with it his own salvation. As he was never able to come to terms with the ship replica in the museum, he could never accept nor live with a false identity.

The novel, set mainly in Coventry, England, covers three generations of the Carter family by going back and forth through several decades, from the first world war to the present time.
Each chapter is headed by various mundane artefacts description, like in a museum catalogue, in an attempt to try and uncover the secret behind them and to underline the strong feeling of attraction, of the main character, to debris and discovered old objects.

The author also wanted to prompt the reader to make the connections about, where does the object come from? How did David get hold of it? And what further narrative information does it bring? The characters, although somewhat distant, are described in a touching, moving and human like way, with their different emotions and their everyday trials.

In So Many Ways to Begin, the author mentions the different, unexpected things that can change one’s life, like : “chance meetings, over-heard conversations… history made by a million fractional moments too numerous to calibrate or observe or record… But what he had would be a start, he thought, a way to begin.”

In an interview with Jon McGregor, he was asked, what is So Many Ways to Begin about? His answer was : “It’s the story of a marriage; it’s the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It’s also about museums, identity, story-telling, and the difficulty of starting again”.

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