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CriticasIn this latest saga, acclaimed Peruvian author Vargas Llosa revisits Flora Tristan, a leading 18th-century French activist considered one of the forerunners of feminism, and Paul Gauguin, the French artist known mostly for his paintings of Tahitian women and landscapes. With no apparent connection between the two characters other than Tristan being Gauguin's grandmother (although they never met), the book recounts their stories separately. Vargas Llosa focuses on an important epoch in each character's life: Flora's last eight months as she promotes her book about workers' rights and her avant-garde socialist and feminist ideas, and Gauguin's life from the moment he abandons his bourgeois homeland for Tahiti in search of the purity and innocence he believed was missing in Europe's languid art. Yet, through flashbacks and glimpses of memory, the author manages to paint a vivid portrait of each character's entire life. Subtly evoked everywhere in the novel is the protagonists' common and tireless search for an alternative world where human happiness is possible-a "paradise" that may be found here on earth or elsewhere. Although at times he succeeds in connecting these seemingly separate lives, Vargas Llosa fails to achieve the narrative unity so particular to previous novels like La fiesta del chivo (The Feast of the Goat, Suma de Letras, 2001) and Conversacion en la catedral (Conversation in the Cathedral, Suma de Letras, 2001), in which plot and characters link perfectly. At times, the book reads as two separate novelized biographies. Still, it carries the imprint of the author's careful composition and ability with prose, as well as his dazzling means of undressing his characters andexposing their most intimate feelings without deviating from the main plot. Recommended for public and academic libraries, and bookstores.
—Mateo Samper, Bogota, Colombia Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.