Tag-Archive for ◊ recognition ◊

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:
• Friday, April 27th, 2012

Colum MacCann was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1965 and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, now the Dublin Institute of Technology. He obtained a BA degree from the University of Texas and was awarded an honorary degree by the Dublin Institute Of Technology. Starting as a journalist, he worked for The Irish Press, The New York Times, The Times, La Repubblica, Die Zeit, The Guardian and the Independent. He now teaches Creative Writing at City University of New York’s Hunter College.

In 2005 he was nominated for an Oscar for his short film, Everything In This Country Must.
He received the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

In 2009 he was the National Book Award Winner for his novel, Let The Great World Spin.
In 2011 he received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and in 2010 the Ambassador Book Award.
He was awarded the French Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2010.

He now lives with his wife and three children in New York.

Colum MacCann has written two collections of short stories and five novels to date which have been translated into thirty languages:
Fishing The Sloe-Black River 1994
Songdogs 1995
This Side Of Brightness 1998
Everything In This Country Must 2000
Dancer 2003
Zoli 2006
Let The Great World Spin 2009

Colum MacCann masterfully inter-connects the everyday life of people living in New York City in the seventies and makes one story out of what seems to be a series of short stories.

Let The Great World Spin starts with the genuine, illegal stunt of the French funambulist, Philippe Petit. Petit manages to successfully cross the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers in Manhattan on his tightrope at a tremendous height in August 1974, to the amazement and apprehension mixed with suspense of the onlookers down below in the street. This event forms the backbone and recurrent theme of the story, since each one of the characters has something meaningful happening on that memorable day and maybe they were also leading a “tightrope walk” kind of life.

Nobody knew in August 1974, one year after the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers were completed and functioning, at a time when U.S. soldiers were returning home from Vietnam, that in September 2001, the world’s attention would be focused on the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers with horror, panic and fear after their attack and tragic destruction. No one could have guessed either, that American soldiers would be sent to fight another war, this time in Iraq followed by Afghanistan, as an act of revenge instead of seeking other means for putting things right.

As MacCann puts it, referring to the tightrope walker, Philippe Petit: “The tightrope walk was an act of creation that seemed to stand in direct defiance to the act of destruction twenty seven years later.” A stunning contrast.

Colum MacCann depicts with great empathy, the suffering, loneliness, expectation and hopes of the various characters in his novel, in order to give his readers a sort of a kaleidoscopic picture of The Big Apple and its inhabitants in those years. A picturesque illustration of New York City which is described as an important character in the story in such an authentic way that one feels catapulted there among all these people.

There is the Irish monk, Corrigan, who wishes to live an ascetic life and likes to believe that he is a soul saviour but finds it difficult to reach a compromise between his beliefs and reality. He he has a good deal of compassion for the prostitutes working in his neighbourhood, the Bronx and actively tries to defend them. He seems to be at a loss about how to deal with his love of Adelita, the Guatemalan nurse, and his spiritual commitment to celibacy in the Catholic Church

Ciaran, his two years elder brother, has a completely different character. His view on life is dissimilar to his sibling and he tries, but never succeeds, in convincing his younger brother to change his ways. Ciaran ends up marrying the artist, Lara, who feels guilty after being involved with Blaine, her driver and now ex-husband, in the fatal car accident that kills Corrigan and his passenger, the young prostitute, Jazzlyn.

Then there is Claire and her husband, judge Solomon Sonderberg, who live on Park Avenue, an expensive area in New York and who are trying, each one in his own way, to deal with their grieving over the loss of their only child, Joshua, who died in an explosion in a coffee shop in Vietnam while being there as an American recruit.

In one of his interviews, Colum MacCann mentions that in his novel it all starts with the “angel” like figure in the sky, seen as a speck of dust to the people standing many meters below. Before the author goes down to explore the core of the city, where he tries to capture the voices of the New Yorkers, the ordinary people in the street “find what is meaningful for the human heart… Find joy and redemption” through the interesting different characters. People who form the heart and soul of this big metropolis.

The image of redemption is portrayed in the adoption of Jazzlin’s little twin girls by Gloria, meaning the end of the prostitution legacy of their mother and grandmother. Colum MacCann says in a conversation with Nathan Englander, the American author: “When two little girls emerge from a Bronx housing complex and get rescued by strangers. That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up… It’s important to say that this is my own emotional response to 9/11”. McCann projects his optimism through his characters, by implying that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel.

When asked which character he likes most, he says Tillie, the thirty eight year old black American prostitute granny from the Bronx but especially the Irish priest, Corrigan.

A very well constructed novel, like a spider’s web, where everything connects. The characters are painted with extreme authenticity. They all have the vulnerability in common and whether rich, humble or destitute, each one in his own way shares with the other, the need for love and recognition.

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