Tag-Archive for ◊ Princeton University ◊

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:
• Tuesday, June 09th, 2009

Cristina Garcia was born in Havana, Cuba in 1958. After Fidel Castro came to power in the early sixties, she moved with her parents to New York and following an early Catholic education, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1979 at Barnard College, at Columbia University. She later entered the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in Baltimore and in 1981 obtained a master’s degree in International Relations.

In the early eighties, Garcia worked for several publications: the Boston Globe for a short time, then United Press International, The Knoxville Journal in Tennessee and The New York Times. She was a correspondent at Time magazine in New York city in 1983 and also worked in San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles.

In 1990 Cristina Garcia decided to devote her time to writing fiction in order to highlight the life of Cuban immigrants in the United States. In 1984 she travelled to Cuba to meet her relatives for the first time and five years later her trip provided her with the incentive to start writing her first book, Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, followed by The Agüero Sisters published in 1997 and Monkey Hunting in 2003.

Cristina Garcia has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and the recipient of a Whiting writer’s award. In 1990 Garcia married Scott Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Pilar born in 1992. Garcia now lives with her daughter in Santa Monica.

The novel of The Agüero Sisters is made up of several family stories (with multiple narrators) interlaced with each other in the past and the present. It’s the rich complex story of Constancia and Reina Agüero, the two very different sisters, who were separated for thirty years.

Reina is forty eight years old, tall, dark and beautiful, liberated and a skilled master electrician,who supported the revolution and therefore remained in Havana. While her sister is the fifty one year-old Constancia, the pale, petite and conservative wife and business woman who immigrated with her husband to the United States after the Cuban revolution and adopted her new country’s culture.

What they both have in common is the intriguing, haunting and mysterious death of their mother and father, who both died many years ago, but whose memory still lives vividly with them after leaving them to inherit half truths, secrets and lies.

The author describes the Cuban landscape in detail, but not much detail is provided about Cuba before and after Fidel Castro took power. The novel mainly relates the lives of Cuban-Americans and the mysteries and myths that they carry with them and the beautiful American dream. There is also the uneasy relationship between children and parents and the hard-to-resolve question of identity.

Cristina Garcia is interested in emotional inheritance “and how those get played out subjectively in different times and places.” She said the beauty of being a novelist is that you can explore your obsessions at length.

Despite the jumps back and forth in time, the prologue gives us the main theme of the novel.

Although Garcia has an elegant style of writing and a fine description of characters, her plot is incomplete. She never reveals why Ignacio kills Blanca and two years later commits suicide. Nor has the author explained the reasons for Blanca’s disappearance and returning to her husband and child, heavily pregnant by another man, who remains anonymous throughout the book. The characters of Constancia and Reina’s daughters are neither fully developed nor do they contribute much to the story.

Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable, colourful book to read.

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