Tag-Archive for ◊ ambition ◊

• 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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• Friday, September 26th, 2014

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California, in 1965. She is the middle daughter of a mother who left home when McLain was four years old and a father who was often in jail. McLain and her two sisters spent their childhood in various foster homes. When Paula McLain was eighteen she became independent and supported herself by working as a nurses’ aid in a convalescent hospital, then as a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker and a cocktail waitress before coming across a creative writing class when twenty four and discovering that her passion was to be a writer.

Paula Mclain has written two novels to date: A Ticket To Ride in 2008 and The Paris Wife in 2011.
She also wrote a non-fiction book in 2003: Like Family:Growing Up In Other People’s Houses and two poetry books: Less Of Her in 1999 and Stumble, Gorgeous in 2005.

Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996 and fellowships from the corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. McLain teaches poetry in the MFA program at New England College and lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Paris Wife narrated by Hadley, is a well documented, fictionalized biography, which also
respects the historical period in which Hemingway, the famous pillar of American literature, lived with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in the Paris of the roaring twenties.

The reserved and timid, Hadley Richardson, who has abandoned any hope of love and marriage, is twenty eight years old when, in October 1920, she meets a handsome young man called Ernest Hemingway, eight years younger than herself, at a party in Chicago. They fall in love and after a short courtship and a stream of letters, they get married in 1921 and decide to live in Paris, which at the time is the centre of art and culture and where Hemingway will work as a foreign correspondent.

The Paris Wife is a homage to Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. McLain recognizes that The Moveable Feast – Hemingway’s own posthumously published memoir in 1964 by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, about his Paris years – was the inspiration that spawned her book. The story is told from Hadley’s perspective in a similar way to The Moveable Feast, which was written from Hemingway’s perspective. He says in his book that it’s about “how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy”.

McLain recounts the short, tumultuous years when Hadley and Hemingway lived together, as well as the beginning of Hemingway’s literary career in the early twenties in Paris. The newly married couple mix with Anglo Saxon expatriates, like American novelist, Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his novelist wife, Zelda, the American poet and critic, Ezra Pound, the American novelist, poet and playwrite, Gertrude Stein and the Irish novelist and poet, James Joyce, to name a few.

Unlike Hemingway, Hadley doesn’t feel at ease mixing with these non-conformist new acquaintances. She discovers that she lacks the ambition and the stamina to pursue her pianistic talent despite the encouragements of her husband and her friends. She is contented to be living through and in the shadow of her highly ambitious husband who is working very hard to make a name for himself in the literary world.

The Paris Wife is a poignant story of two psychologically damaged and therefore highly vulnerable people who love each other deeply without being able to grow old together. They both need each other but can’t lean on or rely on one another. Consequently their marriage is destined to fail.

Hadley loses Hemingway’s trust when she loses the small valise containing all of Hemingway’s three years work manuscripts on a train in the Gare de Lyon on her way to join him in Lausanne. Hemingway’s mistrust deepens further when Hadley announces her unexpected pregnancy to him when he isn’t yet ready for fatherhood and thinks that Hadley is imposing her will. Hemingway loses Hadley’s trust when she first sees his interest in other women and suspects his disloyalty when admiring Lady Duff Twysden, followed by the justified threatening love affair with her unfaithful friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.

After a brief marriage that lasts from 1921 to 1927, Hadley and Hemingway divorce because Hadley refuses Hemingway’s proposal for a “ménage à trois” with Pauline Pfeiffer, a not uncommon practice in the post first world war liberal Paris. Unable to convince Hadley, Hemingway marries Pauline Pfeiffer who becomes the second of his four wives.

Once the irreparable happens, life is never the same again for either of them. “Hemingway still loved Hadley afterwards. He couldn’t and wouldn’t stop loving her, maybe ever, but she killed something in him too. He’d once felt so anchored and solid and safe with her, but now he wondered if he could ever trust anyone”. Much later in his life, Hemingway reveals his regret in the last book he was working on before committing suicide, The Moveable Feast, when he wrote: “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her”, referring to Hadley.

When Hadley is informed about Hemingway’s suicide by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, she says: “Tatie was dead. There was nothing Paul – her second husband – could possibly do for me except let me go – back to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian, back to Chicago when I was Hadley Richardson, a girl stepping off a train about to meet the man who would change her life. That girl, that impossibly lucky girl, needed nothing”. A sad love story that transcends any epoch.

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