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The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa

- Abstract

Fanatics The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa Translated by Natasha Wimmer
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 384 pp. $25.00
Reviewed by Roger Kaplan

Politics, specifically the violent politics of Latin American history, have a significant place in the work of the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. From the left-wing military junta that took power in Peru in the early 1960’s, which looms in the background of The Time of the Hero (1963) and Conversation in a Cathedral (1969), to the fascistic Trujillo dictatorship that controlled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, which sits at center stage in The Feast of the Goat (2000), the brutal and arbitrary politics of his continent have inspired Vargas Llosa’s settings and, more importantly, his plots. Indeed, Vargas Llosa, who was born in 1936, has himself taken an active interest in public affairs. His own political itinerary has taken him from a conventional position on the “anti-imperialist” Left to a keen appreciation of liberal democracy, with a special interest in the free-market economics promoted by his friend and compatriot Hernando de Soto. In 1990, he went so far as to contest the presidency of his country following the unhappy tenure of the last socialist president, Alan Garcia. He lost to the “samurai,” Alberto Fujimori, who, after defeating the Maoist terror movement “Shining Path,” proceeded to spoil his early success through increasingly authoritarian tendencies and corruption. The convulsions of those years are discussed in Vargas Llosa’s novel Death in the Andes (1993), and in the nonfiction A Fish in the Water (1993) and Making Waves (1997). More so than politics, however, it is history, or more precisely biography, that inspires Vargas Llosa’s new novel, The Way to Paradise. Specifically, he is concerned with two real-life seekers after paradise: the French painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Gauguin’s maternal grandmother, the socialist and feminist agitator Flora Tristan (1803-1844). In alternating chapters, Vargas Llosa evokes the final days of these two figures as they mount their last assaults on the summits that, as we learn from extended flashbacks, they have separately sought for years

About the Author

Roger Kaplan has written widely on French politics and on Algeria’s Islamist insurgency of the 1990’s.