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The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

5.0 1
by Mario Vargas Llosa

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A companion to the scandalous bestseller In Praise of the Stepmother, Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel is "an amazingly seductive work" (San Francisco Chronicle).

The boundary between physical reality and the imagination has been at the heart of literature in Spanish ever since Don Quixote. In The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, his most generous and


A companion to the scandalous bestseller In Praise of the Stepmother, Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel is "an amazingly seductive work" (San Francisco Chronicle).

The boundary between physical reality and the imagination has been at the heart of literature in Spanish ever since Don Quixote. In The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, his most generous and ambitious novel in years, Mario Vargas Llosa draws on that tradition to explore the possibilities of imagination in our own time.

Set in Lima, the novel tells of a love triangle: Don Rigoberto himself, by day a gray insurance executive, by night a pornographer and sexual enthusiast; his second wife, Lucrecia; and his young son, Alfonso. Husband and wife are estranged because of a sexual encounter between Lucrecia and the boy, a fey, angelic creature who may have seduced her (rather than the other way around). Missing Lucrecia terribly, Rigoberto fills his notebooks with memories, fantasies, and unsent letters; meanwhile the boy visits Lucrecia, determined to regain her favor and win her love. The resulting novel, an intoxicating mix of reality and fantasy, is sexy, funny, disquieting, and unfailingly compelling.

"Exuberant . . . a roguish and sophisticated sex comedy." --Time

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Since Freud, we've all been aware of the relationship between creativity and procreativity, but few writers have explored the link in such luminous, celebratory detail. Don Rigoberto may or may not be encouraging his estranged wife to engage in lusciously described sex--it could all be inventions in his notebook--and the estrangement may or may not result from a sexual encounter between Dona Lucrecia and her husband's prepubescent son, but it hardly matters. What matters is the extraordinary language and the way Vargas Llosa makes readers rethink love, sex, and imagination. (LJ 4/1/98)
Walter Kenrick
Vargas Llosa's complex, gorgeous prose...sweeps the reader into a rich confusion of art and fact, fiction and reality.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Vargas Llosa's most enjoyable novel since his Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982) with which it shares the motif, used elsewhere in his fiction, of a teenager's romantic fixation on his beautiful stepmother. The story is set in Lima, where middle-aged insurance executive Don Rigoberto's happy marriage to his luscious young second wife Lucrecia (amusingly pet-named Lucre) has been temporarily rocked by Lucrecia's indiscretion with her handsome stepson Alfonso (Fonchito), a politely deferential "little pagan god" whose ingenuous questions about male-female interrelationships arouse the distraught Lucrecia beyond boiling point.

Simultaneously, Don Rigoberto fills his "notebooks" with impassioned sexual arcana and fantasizing: arguments with a militant "feminist sec"'; "diatribes" against "Rotarians," who repress sexual energies, and "Sportsmen," who misspend them; and the like. The line between reality and invention is repeatedly blurred, as Vargas Llosa juxtaposes such entries with accounts of Lucrecia's efforts to resist Fonchito and of her previous a submissions to Don Rigoberto's erotic importunings (persuading her, for example, to "enact" the subjects of famous infamous paintings, and—in a dazzling illustration of what a great writer can do with an extended dirty joke—to undertake, then describe a "chaste" vacation enjoyed with a former lover). If the Marquis de Sade had had a sense of humor, he might have anticipated such delights as this novel's urbane fetishism ("A Tiny Foot"), appreciations of love in unexpected places (a "formidable sexual encounter" between mating spiders), and uproarious deadpan dialogue ("I went off last night."/ "'Where to,stepmama ?")... It's all so outrageously entertaining that one must concentrate scrupulously to notice how brilliantly Vargas Llosa uses Don Rigoberto's notebooks to comment on a daunting variety of general cultural as well as sexual topics. An anatomy of Eros unlike any other fiction. Its author may need a cold shower; all the fortunate reader needs is the time and place (preferably bed) to sample its very considerable pleasures.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
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6.29(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto

By Mario Vargas Llosa, Edith Grossman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1997 Mario Vargas Llosa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0064-5


The Return of Fonchito

The doorbell rang, Doña Lucrecia went to see who was there, and like a portrait in the open doorway, with the twisted gray trees of the Olivar de San Isidro as the background, she saw the golden ringlets and blue eyes of Fonchito's head. The world began to spin.

"I miss you very much, Stepmamá," chirped the voice she remembered so well. "Are you still angry with me? I came to ask your forgiveness. Do you forgive me?"

"You, it's you?" Still holding the doorknob, Doña Lucrecia had to lean against the wall. "Aren't you ashamed to come here?"

"I sneaked out of the academy," the boy insisted, showing her his sketchbook, his colored pencils. "I missed you very much, really I did. Why are you so pale?"

"My God, my God." Doña Lucrecia staggered and dropped to the faux-colonial bench next to the door. White as a sheet, she covered her eyes.

"Don't die!" shouted the boy in fright.

And Doña Lucrecia — she felt herself passing out — saw the small, childish figure cross the threshold, close the door, fall to his knees at her feet, grasp her hands, and rub them in bewilderment. "Don't die, don't faint, please."

She made an effort to collect her wits and regain her self-control. She took a deep breath before speaking. Her words came slowly, for she thought her voice would break at any moment. "Nothing's wrong, I'm fine now. Seeing you here was the last thing I expected. How did you have the nerve? Don't you feel any remorse?"

Still on his knees, Fonchito tried to kiss her hand.

"Say you forgive me, Stepmamá," he begged. "Say it, say it. The house isn't the same since you left. I came here so many times after school just to catch a glimpse of you. I wanted to ring the bell but I didn't have the courage. Won't you ever forgive me?"

"Never," she said firmly. "I'll never forgive what you did, you wicked boy."

But, belying her own words, her large, dark eyes scrutinized with curiosity, some pleasure, perhaps even with tenderness, the tousled curls, the thin blue veins in his neck, the tips of his ears visible among the blond ringlets, the slim graceful body tightly encased in the blue jacket and gray trousers of his school uniform. Her nostrils breathed in that adolescent odor of soccer games, hard candies, and d'Onofrio ice cream; her ears recognized the high-pitched breaks, the changing voice that still echoed in her memory. Doña Lucrecia's hands resigned themselves to being dampened by the baby-bird kisses of that sweet mouth.

"I love you very much, Stepmamá," Fonchito whimpered. "And even if you don't think so, my papá does too."

Just then Justiniana appeared, a lithe, cinnamon-colored figure wrapped in a flowered smock, with a kerchief around her head and a feather duster in her hand. She stood, frozen, in the hallway leading to the kitchen.

"Master Alfonso," she murmured in disbelief. "Fonchito! I can't believe it!"

"Imagine, imagine!" Doña Lucrecia exclaimed, determined to display more indignation than she actually felt. "He has the gall to come to this house. After ruining my life and hurting Rigoberto so. To ask for my forgiveness and shed his crocodile tears. Have you ever seen anything so shameless, Justiniana?"

But even now she did not pull away the slender fingers that Fonchito, shaken by his sobs, continued to kiss.

"Go on, Master Alfonso," said the girl, so confused that without realizing it she now began to address him with the more familiar tú. "Can't you see how much you're upsetting the señora? Go on, leave now, Fonchito."

"I'll go if she says she forgives me," pleaded the boy, sighing, his head resting on Doña Lucrecia's hands. "And you, Justita, you don't even say hello, you start right in insulting me? What did I ever do to you? I love you too, a lot; I love you so much I cried all night when you left."

"Quiet, you liar, I don't believe a word you say." Justiniana smoothed Doña Lucrecia's hair. "Shall I bring you a cloth and some alcohol, Señora?"

"Just a glass of water. Don't worry, I'm all right now. But seeing the boy here in this house gave me such a shock."

And, at last, very gently, she withdrew her hands from Fonchito's grasp. The boy remained at her feet, not crying now, struggling to suppress his sobs. His eyes were red and tears had streaked his face. A thread of saliva hung from his mouth. Through the mist that fogged her eyes, Doña Lucrecia observed his chiseled nose, well-defined lips, small, imperious cleft chin, the brilliant whiteness of his teeth. She wanted to slap him, scratch that Baby Jesus face. Hypocrite! Judas! Even bite his neck and suck his blood like a vampire.

"Does your father know you're here?"

"What an idea, Stepmamá," the boy answered immediately, in a conspiratorial tone. "Who knows what he'd do to me. He never talks about you, but I know how much he misses you. I swear you're all he thinks about, night or day. I came here in secret, I sneaked out of the academy. I go three times a week, after school. Do you want me to show you my drawings? Say you forgive me, Stepmamá."

"Don't say anything, throw him out, Señora." Justiniana had come back with a glass of water; Doña Lucrecia took several sips. "Don't let him fool you with his pretty face. He's Lucifer in person, and you know it. He'll play another evil trick on you worse than the first one."

"Don't say that, Justita." Fonchito looked ready to burst into tears again. "I swear I'm sorry, Stepmamá. I didn't know what I was doing, honest. I didn't want anything to happen. Do you think I wanted you to go away? That I wanted my papá and me to be left all alone?"

"I didn't go away," Doña Lucrecia muttered, contradicting him. "Rigoberto threw me out as if I were a whore. And it was all your fault!"

"Don't say dirty words, Stepmamá." The boy raised both hands in horror. "Don't say them, they don't suit you."

Despite her grief and anger, Doña Lucrecia almost smiled. Cursing didn't suit her! A perceptive, sensitive child? Justiniana was right: he was Beelzebub, a viper with the face of an angel.

The boy exploded with jubilation. "You're laughing, Stepmamá! Does that mean you forgive me? Then say it, say you have, Stepmamá."

He clapped his hands, and in his blue eyes the sadness had cleared and a savage little light was flashing. Doña Lucrecia noticed the ink stains on his fingers. Despite herself, she was touched. Was she going to faint again? How absurd. She saw her reflection in the foyer mirror: her expression had regained its composure, but a light blush tinged her cheeks, and her breast rose and fell in agitation. With an automatic gesture she closed the neckline of her dressing gown. How could he be so shameless, so cynical, so perverse, when he was still so young? Justiniana read her thoughts. She looked at her as if to say, "Don't be weak, Señora, don't forgive him. Don't be a fool!" Hiding her embarrassment, she took a few more sips of water; it was cold and did her good. The boy quickly grasped her free hand and began to kiss it again, talking all the while.

"Thank you, Stepmamá. You're so good, but I knew that, that's why I had the courage to ring the bell. I want to show you my drawings. And talk to you about Egon Schiele, about his life and his paintings. And tell you what I'll be when I grow up, and a thousand other things. Can you guess? A painter, Stepmamá! That's what I want to be."

Justiniana shook her head in alarm. Outside, motors and horns disturbed the San Isidro twilight, and through the sheer curtains in the dining alcove, Doña Lucrecia caught a glimpse of the bare branches and knotted trunks of the olive trees; they had become a friendly presence. Enough indecisiveness, it was time to act.

"All right, Fonchito," she said, with a severity her heart no longer demanded of her. "Now make me happy. Please go away."

"Yes, Stepmamá." The boy leaped to his feet. "Whatever you say. I'll always listen to you, I'll always obey you in everything. You'll see how well I can behave."

His voice and expression were those of someone who has eased himself of a heavy burden and made peace with his conscience. A golden lock of hair brushed his forehead, and his eyes sparkled with joy. Doña Lucrecia watched as he put a hand into his back pocket, took out a handkerchief, blew his nose, and then picked up his book bag, his portfolio of drawings, his box of pencils from the floor. With all that on his shoulder, he backed away, smiling, toward the door, not taking his eyes off Doña Lucrecia and Justiniana.

"As soon as I can, I'll sneak away again and come and visit you, Stepmamá," he warbled from the doorway. "And you too, Justita, of course."

When the street door closed, both women stood motionless and silent. Soon the bells of the Virgen del Pilar Church began to ring in the distance. A dog barked.

"It's incredible," murmured Doña Lucrecia. "I can't believe he had the nerve to show his face in this house."

"What's incredible is how good you are," the girl replied indignantly. "You've forgiven him, haven't you? After the way he tricked you into fighting with the señor. There's a place reserved for you in heaven, Señora!"

"I'm not even certain it was a trick, or that he planned it all out ahead of time."

She was walking toward the bathroom, talking to herself, but she heard Justiniana chiding her. "Of course he planned everything. Fonchito is capable of the most awful things, don't you know that yet?"

Perhaps, thought Doña Lucrecia. But he was a boy, only a boy. Wasn't he? Yes, at least there could be no doubt about that. In the bathroom she splashed cold water on her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. Agitation had sharpened her nose and made it twitch uneasily, and there were bluish circles under her eyes. Between her partially opened lips she could see the tip of the sandpaper her tongue had turned into. She recalled the lizards and iguanas in Piura; their tongues were always bone-dry, like hers was now. Fonchito's presence in her house had made her feel stony and ancient, like those prehistoric relics of the northern deserts. Without thinking, acting automatically, she untied her belt, and with a movement of her shoulders shrugged off her dressing gown; the silk slid down her body like a caress and fell with a whisper to the floor. Flat and round, the dressing gown covered her insteps, like a gigantic flower. Not knowing what she was doing or what she was going to do, breathing heavily, her feet stepped across the barrier of clothing that encircled them and carried her to the bidet, where, after lowering her lace panties, she sat down. What was she doing? What are you going to do, Lucrecia? She was not smiling. She tried to inhale and exhale more calmly while her hands, moving independently, turned the taps, the hot, the cold, testing them, mixing them, adjusting them, raising or lowering the jet of water — lukewarm, hot, cold, cool, weak, strong, pulsating. Her lower body moved forward, moved back, leaned to the right, the left, until it found just the right spot. There. A shiver ran down her spine. "Perhaps he didn't even realize, perhaps he didn't know what he was doing," she repeated to herself, feeling sorry for the boy she had cursed so often during these past six months. Perhaps he wasn't bad, perhaps he wasn't. Mischievous, naughty, conceited, irresponsible, a thousand other things. But not evil, no. "Perhaps not." Thoughts burst inside her head like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. She recalled the day she had met Rigoberto, the widower with the great Buddha ears and outrageous nose whom she would marry a short while later, and the first time she had seen her stepson, a cherub in a blue sailor suit — gold buttons, a little cap with an anchor — and all she had discovered and learned, the unexpected, imaginative, intense nocturnal life in the little house in Barranco that Rigoberto had built to begin their life together, and the arguments between the architect and her husband which had marked the construction of what would become her home. So much had happened! The images came and went, dissolved, changed, entwined, followed one after the other, and it was as if the liquid caress of the nimble jet of water reached to her very soul.

Instructions for the Architect

Our misunderstanding is conceptual in nature. You have created this attractive design for my house and library based on the supposition — one that is extremely widespread, unfortunately — that people, not objects, are the primary consideration in a residence. I do not criticize you for having made this opinion your own, since it is indispensable for any man in your profession not resigned to doing without clients. But my conception of my future home is just the opposite. To wit: in the small constructed space that I will call my world and that will be ruled by my whims, we humans will be second-class citizens; books, pictures, and engravings will have first priority. My four thousand volumes and one hundred canvases and prints should constitute the primary rationale for the design I have hired you to make. You must subordinate the comfort, safety, and space allotted human occupants to what is needed for those objects.

An absolutely essential factor is the fireplace, which must have the capacity to serve, at my discretion, as a crematorium for unwanted books and prints. For this reason, it must be placed very close to the bookshelves and within reach of my chair, since it pleases me to play inquisitor to literary and artistic calamities while seated. Let me explain. The four thousand volumes and one hundred prints in my possession are invariable numbers. In order to avoid excessive abundance and disorder, I will never own more, but they will not always be the same, for they will be replaced constantly until my death. Which means that for each book I add to my library, I eliminate another, and each image that enters my collection — lithograph, woodcut, xylograph, drawing, engraving, mixed media, oil painting, watercolor, et cetera — displaces the least favorite among all the others. I will not conceal from you that choosing the victim is difficult, at times heartrending, a Hamletian dilemma that torments me for days, weeks, and then becomes part of my nightmares. At first I presented the sacrificed books and prints to public libraries and museums. Now I burn them, which accounts for the importance of the fireplace. I chose this drastic method, which seasons the discomfort of selecting a victim with the spice of committing a cultural sacrilege, an ethical transgression, on the day, or, I should say, the night when, having decided to replace a reproduction of Andy Warhol's multicolored Campbell's soup can with a beautiful Szyszlo inspired by the sea of Paracas, I realized it was stupid to inflict on other eyes a work I had come to consider unworthy of mine. And then I threw it in the fire. As I watched the pasteboard scorch and burn, I confess to experiencing a vague remorse. This no longer happens. I have consigned dozens of romantic and indigenist poets to the flames, and an equal number of conceptualist, abstract, informalist, landscapist, portraitist, and sacred works of art in order to maintain the numerus clausus of my library and art collection, and I have done so not with regret but with the stimulating sense that I was engaging in literary and artistic criticism as it should be practiced: radically, irreversibly, and flammably. Let me add, to bring this digression to a close, that the pastime amuses me, but since it in no way serves as an aphrodisiac, I consider it limited, minor, merely spiritual, lacking bodily repercussions.

I trust you will not interpret what you have just read — the greater importance I attribute to pictures and books than to flesh-and-blood bipeds — as a sudden whim or cynical pose. It is neither, but rather a deep-rooted conviction, the result of certain extremely difficult but also highly pleasurable experiences. It was in no way easy for me to adopt a position that contradicted the ancient traditions — with a smile on our lips, let us call them humanistic — of anthropocentric philosophies and religions in which it is inconceivable that a real human being, an organism of perishable flesh and bone, can be considered less worthy of interest and respect than the invented one that resides (if it makes you more comfortable, let us say it is reflected) in the imagery of art and literature. I will spare you the details of this story and move directly to the conclusion I reached, which I now proclaim with no embarrassment. It is not the world of cunning cattle that you and I are part of which interests me and brings me joy or suffering, but the myriad beings animated by imagination, desire, and artistic skill, the beings present in the paintings, books, and prints that I have collected with the patience and love of many years. The house I am going to build in Barranco, the project you are going to redesign from beginning to end, is for them rather than for me or my new bride or young son. The trinity formed by my family, no blasphemy intended, is in the service of these objects, as you must be when, after reading these lines, you lean over the drawing board to correct the mistake you have made.


Excerpted from The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto by Mario Vargas Llosa, Edith Grossman. Copyright © 1997 Mario Vargas Llosa. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Arequipa, Peru, in 1936. In 1958 he earned a scholarship to study in Madrid, and later he lived in Paris. His first story collection, The Cubs and Other Stories, was published in 1959. Vargas Llosa's reputation grew with the publication in 1963 of The Time of the Hero, a controversial novel about the politics of his country. The Peruvian military burned a thousand copies of the book. He continued to live abroad until 1980, returning to Lima just before the restoration of democratic rule.

A man of politics as well as literature, Vargas Llosa served as president of PEN International from 1977 to 1979, and headed the government commission to investigate the massacre of eight journalists in the Peruvian Andes in 1983.

Vargas Llosa has produced critical studies of García Márquez, Flaubert, Sartre, and Camus, and has written extensively on the roots of contemporary fiction. For his own work, he has received virtually every important international literary award. Vargas Llosa's works include The Green House (1968) and Conversation in the Cathedral (1975), about which Suzanne Jill Levine for The New York Times Book Review said: "With an ambition worthy of such masters of the 19th-century novel as Balzac, Dickens and Galdós, but with a technical skill that brings him closer to the heirs of Flaubert and Henry James . . . Mario Vargas Llosa has [created] one of the largest narrative efforts in contemporary Latin American letters." In 1982, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to broad critical acclaim. In 1984, FSG published the bestselling The War of the End of the World, winner of the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta was published in 1986. The Perpetual Orgy, Vargas Llosa's study of Flaubert and Madame Bovary, appeared in the winter of 1986, and a mystery, Who Killed Palomino Molero?, the year after. The Storyteller, a novel, was published to great acclaim in 1989. In 1990, FSG published In Praise of the Stepmother, also a bestseller. Of that novel, Dan Cryer wrote: "Mario Vargas Llosa is a writer of promethean authority, making outstanding fiction in whatever direction he turns" (Newsday).

In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran for the presidency of his native Peru. In 1994, FSG published his memoir, A Fish in the Water, in which he recorded his campaign experience. In 1994, Vargas Llosa was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and, in 1995, the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded to writers whose work expresses the idea of the freedom of the individual in society. In 1996, Death in the Andes, Vargas Llosa's next novel, was published to wide acclaim. Making Waves, a collection of his literary and political essays, was published in 1997; The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, a novel, was published in 1998; The Feast of the Goat, which sold more than 400,000 copies in Spanish-language, was published in English in 2001; The Language of Passion, his most recent collection of nonfiction essays on politics and culture, was published by FSG in June 2003. The Way to Paradise, a novel, was published in November 2003; The Bad Girl, a novel, was published in the U.S. by FSG in October, 2007. His most recent novel, El Sueño del Celta, will be published in 2011 or 2012. Two works of nonfiction are planned for the near future as well.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".

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Notebooks of Don Rigoberto 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully Written novel that most definately rewrites the latin sexual culture. Llosa first introduces don Rigoberto in his also classic novel (In Praise of the Stepmother) which illustrates a family and the damage incurred by everyone's sexual identity and the moral codes each breaks along the way. Llosa's insight into Rigoberto's fantasies intertwined with his reality is a journey that opens the reader's soul as Llosa, the master, takes us through emotionally and erotically charged episodes that not only has the reader questioning his/her own knowledge of the their sexual identity but how does sexual identity affect a marriage, a family or a life. By the end of the novel the questions arise, how important is sexual identity and who chooses it?. Llosa makes a fine point of illustrating the importance of knowing one's own worth and seeking individual happiness as opposed as to what society may dictate. Pure Genius.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto' is a brilliant demonstration of the imagination, and multi-layered writing, of Mario Vargas Llosa. I'm a fan of his. But to be brutally frank, he fails in the execution of this narrative. Without giving too much away, Vargas Llosa strings together a series of fantasies -- often, if not always, sexual in nature -- with the help of Don Rigoberto's 'notebook,' or diary. Don Rigoberto is the main character who escapes the mundane world by creating alternative, parallel fantasies by scrawling in his notebooks. However, the various tales have nothing to connect them, and appear to be little more than flashes of creativity on the author's part. The result is a disconnected series of experiences and fantasies, whose medium to link them are Don Rigoberto's notebooks, and little else. Those notebooks, though, don't suffice in that mission. The reading process begins to feel repetitious, leaving the reader to wonder how some of the earlier fantasies are relevant at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is a book for all those people who think that they are so normal so much ok. it playes with the nature of human beings on a such a delicate way. it showes that there are some things about which we should think twicw, before saying or judgung anything and anyone. when you read it , you will ask your self did you understood the autor at all, what have you read, feeling a kind of wish to go back and read some parts again.it is obvious that the autor knows the human nature very well, into it's deepest parts. on the end it showes that there is only one thing that we are looking for, happines and harmony/ each one of us on it's own way..................read it..you will love it