Tag-Archive for ◊ Flora ◊

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:
• Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Martin Davies grew up in North West England. He travelled a great deal from the Middle East to India. Today he is a BBC television senior producer and editor and lives in South West London.

His bibliography :
Mrs Hudson and the Spirits Curse published in 2004.
Mrs Hudson and the Malabar Rose published in 2005.
The Conjuror’s Bird published in 2005.
The Unicorn Road published in 2009.

The Conjuror’s Bird is based on historical facts with genuine people from the 18th century like the well-known explorer, botanist and patron of natural sciences, the wealthy Lincolnshire landowner, Baronet Sir Joseph Banks, who was part of Captain James Cook’s first grand voyage around the world on the “Endeavour”, from 1768 to 1771. He was also the unofficial scientific adviser to king George III.

Other known people of the time are Banks’s best friend, Dr. Daniel Carlsson Solander, the Swedish botanist and natural scientist, his Danish friend, Johann Christian Fabricius, professor of natural history and world famous entomologist, and his German friend, the naturalist, ethnologist and travel writer, Johann Georg Forster.

Upon his return to England from Captain Cook’s second expedition in 1774 in the South Seas, Forster offers Banks the well-preserved single specimen of the extinct Ulieta bird.

The novel focuses on the Ulieta bird which became extinct in the 18th century. The extinction of species remains a controversial subject in our 21st century, with its many on-going debates about how humans are destroying the world’s flora and fauna and therefore creating a dangerous unbalance in the ecosystem. A big and serious problem that existed once upon a time and still exists today with apparantly no way of stopping it, unfortunately.

The Conjuror’s Bird intertwines history, romance and thrilling detective pursuit. It’s a biographical fiction mystery novel with literary merit and an engaging, suspenseful story, well-written with intense emotions.

In his novel, the author runs in parallel, by alternating chapters and by using a different typeface, an interlinked story of three centuries: the 18th, the 20th and the 21st, where the past meets the present. The story of the taxidermist, John Fitzgerald, who goes on a detective mission, hunting for the only specimen left of the Ulieta bird, which once belonged to Joseph Banks but disappeared from his collection without any explanation and was never seen again.

If it wasn’t for a coloured drawing done by Forster’s son, Georg, which can be seen in The Natural History Museum in London, no one would have known of its existence. The second story being the love tale of Joseph Banks with the mysterious Miss B—n, the main link being the elusive Ulieta bird and the unknown Miss B. with the striking green eyes, who seems to be the key to finding the long disappeared stuffed bird.

The third story being the discovery of the Congo peacock by James Chapin, the American naturalist,twenty three years after coming across a single peacock feather earlier in the 20th century.

Another link in the novel is the two unfulfilled love stories which stand two centuries apart. The strong and impossible passion that Joseph Banks once shared with Miss B. (Mary Burnett?) who was a woman well ahead of her time in Georgian society, and the infatuation that John Fitzgerald and the ambitiously independent Gabriella used to have for each other. Both loves seem to have ended due to a child, a daughter.

The characters are well depicted, the novel competently structured and a successful amount of research attained. A very pleasant read.

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