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—San Francisco Chronicle
"Oddly affecting...an engrossing, sometimes horrifying image of social conditions in France [from] one of the great Latin American novelists."
—The New York Times Book Review
"With matchless empathy and insight, the great author analyzes two contrasting quests for the ideal...It's hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?"
"Through his characters Vargas Llosa [captures] much of the liberationist spirit of the 19th century, the great romantic desire to escape the cramping bonds of tradition, whatever the cost. His stylistic virtuosity with authorial voice commands ambition."
"Masterful....Vargas Llosa's florid but exacting style is mesmerizing, as is his choice of two characters whose drastically opposing belief systems only make their rare moments of connection more sublime."
—Time Out New York
* * *
She opened her eyes at four in the morning and thought, Today you
begin to change the world, Florita. Undaunted by the prospect of
setting in motion the machinery that in a matter of years would
transform humanity and eliminate injustice, she felt calm, strong
enough to face the obstacles ahead of her. It was the same way she
had felt on that afternoon in Saint-Germain ten years ago, at her first
meeting of Saint-Simonians, when she listened to Prosper Enfantin
describe the messianic couple who would save the world
and vowed to herself, You'll be that Woman-Messiah. Poor Saint-Simonians,
with their elaborate hierarchies, their fanatical love of science,
their belief that progress could be made simply by putting
industrialists in government and running society like a business! You
had left them far behind, Andalusa.
Unhurriedly, she got up, washed, and dressed. The night before,
after the painter Jules Laure visited to wish her luck on her tour, she
had finished packing her bags and, with the help of Marie-Madeleine,
the maid, and the water-seller Noël Taphanel, moved them to the
foot of the stairs. She herself had carried the freshly printed copies of
The Workers' Union, stopping every few steps to catch her breath because
the sack was so heavy. When the carriage arrived at the house
on the rue du Bac to take her to the wharf, Flora had been up for
It was still the dead of night. The gas lamps on the corners had
been extinguished, and the coachman, buried in a cloak so that only
his eyes were visible, urged the horses on with a whistle of his whip.
As she listened to the tolling of the bells of Saint-Sulpice, the streets,
dark and lonely, seemed ghostly to her. But on the banks of the Seine,
the wharf swarmed with passengers, sailors, and porters preparing
for departure. She heard orders and shouts. When the ship set sail,
trailing a foamy wake in the brown waters of the river, the sun was
shining in a spring sky and Flora sat drinking hot tea in her cabin.
Wasting no time, she noted the date in her diary: April 12, 1844.
And at once she began to study her travel companions. You would
reach Auxerre by dusk, so you had twelve hours in this floating specimen
case to expand your knowledge of rich and poor, Florita.
Few of the travelers were bourgeois. Many were sailors off the
boats that carried the agricultural produce of Joigny and Auxerre to
Paris, and were now on their way home. They were gathered around
their master, a hairy, gruff, redheaded man in his fifties, with whom
Flora had a friendly exchange. Sitting on deck surrounded by his
men, at nine in the morning the master gave each man as much bread
as he could eat, seven or eight radishes, a pinch of salt, two hardboiled
eggs, and, in a tin cup passed from hand to hand, a swallow of
wine. These freight sailors earned a franc and a half for a day of labor;.
over the long winters, they barely scraped by. Their work in the open
air was hard when the weather was rainy. But in the relationship of
the men with their master, Flora saw none of the servility of the English
sailors, who hardly dared meet the eyes of their superiors. At
three in the afternoon, the master served them their last meal of the
day: slices of ham, cheese, and bread, which they ate in silence,
sitting in a circle.
In the port at Auxerre, it took an infernally long time for the baggage
to be unloaded. The locksmith Pierre Moreau had made a reservation
for her at an old inn in the center of town, and she arrived
there early in the morning. Day was dawning as she unpacked. She
got into bed knowing she wouldn't sleep a wink. But for the first
time in a long while, during the few hours that she lay watching the
light grow through the cretonne curtains, she didn't daydream about
her mission, the suffering of humanity, or the workers she would recruit
for the Workers' Union. She thought instead about the house
where she was born, in Vaugirard, on the outskirts of Paris, a neighborhood
of the bourgeoisie whom she now detested. Were you
remembering the house itself-spacious, comfortable, with its manicured
gardens and busy maids-or the descriptions of it your mother
gave when you were no longer rich but poor, the flattering memories
in which the unhappy woman took refuge from the leaks, disarray,
clutter, and ugliness of those two little rooms on the rue du Fouarre?
You and your mother were forced to move there after the authorities
seized the Vaugirard house, claiming that your parents' marriage,
performed in Bilbao by a French expatriate priest, wasn't valid, and
that Mariano Tristán, Spanish citizen from Peru, belonged to a country
with which France was at war.
Most likely, Florita, your memory preserved only what your
mother had told you of those early years. You were too little to remember
the gardeners, the maids, the furniture upholstered in silk
and velvet, the heavy draperies, the silver, gold, crystal, and painted
china that adorned the salon and the dining room. Madame Tristán
fled into the splendid past of Vaugirard so as not to see the poverty
and misery of the foul-smelling place Maubert, crowded with beggars,
vagabonds, and lowlifes, or the rue du Fouarre, full of taverns,
where you spent several years of your childhood-those years you remembered
well. Carrying basins of water up and down, carrying
sacks of rubbish up and down. Afraid of meeting, on the worn,
creaky steps of the steep little staircase, that old drunkard with the
purple face and swollen nose, Uncle Giuseppe, a man with wandering
hands who sullied you with his gaze and sometimes pinched you.
Years of scarcity, fear, hunger, sadness, especially when your mother
fell into stunned silence, unable to accept such misfortune after having
lived like a queen with her husband-her legitimate husband before
God, no matter what anyone said - Don Mariano Tristán y
Moscoso, a colonel of the Armies of the King of Spain who died prematurely
of apoplexy on June 4, 1807, when you were barely four
years and two months old.
It was just as unlikely that you would remember your father. The
full face, the heavy eyebrows, the curly mustache, the faintly rosy
skin, the ringed fingers, the long gray sideburns of Mariano Tristán
that came to your memory weren't those of the flesh-and-blood father
who carried you in his arms to watch the butterflies flutter
among the flowers of the gardens of Vaugirard, and sometimes offered
to give you your bottle; the man who spent hours in his study
reading chronicles of French travelers in Peru; the Don Mariano who
was visited by the young Simón Bolívar, future Liberator of Venezuela,
Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. It was the Mariano
Tristán of the portrait your mother kept on her night table in the tiny
apartment on the rue du Fouarre; the Don Mariano of the oil paintings
hanging in the Tristán family house on Calle Santo Domingo in
Arequipa, paintings that you spent hours studying until you were
convinced that that handsome, elegant, prosperous-looking gentleman
was your father.
The first morning noises began to rise from the streets of Auxerre,
and Flora knew sleep had fled for good. Her appointments
began at nine. She had arranged several, thanks to Moreau, the locksmith,
and the good Agricol Perdiguier's letters of introduction, addressed
to his friends at the workers' mutual aid societies of the
region. But you had time. A few moments longer in bed would give
you strength to rise to the circumstances, Andalusa.
What if Colonel Mariano Tristán had lived many years more?
You'd never have known poverty, Florita. Thanks to a good dowry,
you'd be married to a bourgeois, and maybe you'd be living in a beautiful
Vaugirard mansion, surrounded by gardens. You'd have no idea
what it was like to go to bed with your insides twisted by hunger; you
wouldn't know the meaning of such concepts as discrimination and
exploitation. Injustice would be an abstract term. But perhaps your
parents would have given you an education-schooling, teachers, a
tutor. Though they might not have: a girl from a good family was educated
only in order to win a husband and learn to be a good mother
and housewife. You'd have no knowledge of any of the things necessity
had forced you to learn. True, you wouldn't make the spelling
mistakes that had embarrassed you all your life, and doubtless you'd
have read more books. You would spend the years occupying yourself
with your wardrobe, caring for your hands, your eyes, your hair,
your figure, living a worldly life of soirees, dances, plays, teas, excursions,
flirtations. You'd be a lovely parasite burrowed deep into your
good marriage. Never would you seek to discover what the world
was like beyond your sheltered existence in the shadow of your father,
your mother, your husband, your children. A machine for giving
birth, a contented slave, you'd go to church on Sundays, to
confession on the first Friday of every month, and now, at forty-one,
you'd be a plump matron with an irresistible passion for chocolate
and novenas. You would never have traveled to Peru, or seen England,
or discovered pleasure in the arms of Olympia, or written the
books that you've written despite your poor spelling. And, of course,
you would never have become conscious of the slavery of women,
nor would it have occurred to you that in order for women to be liberated
it was necessary for them to unite with other exploited peoples
and wage a peaceful revolution-as crucial for the future of
humanity as the emergence of Christianity 1,844 years ago. "It was
better you died, mon cher papa," she said, laughing, as she leaped out
of bed. She wasn't tired. For twenty-four hours she had felt no pains
in her back or womb, nor had she noticed the cold presence in her
chest. You were in great spirits, Florita.
The first meeting, at nine in the morning, took place in a workshop.
The locksmith, Moreau, who was supposed to accompany her,
had had to leave Auxerre urgently because of a death in the family.
You were on your own, Andalusa. As planned, the gathering drew
some thirty members of one of the associations into which the mutual
aid societies of Auxerre had split, a group with the lovely name
of Duty to Be Free. These members, almost all shoemakers, greeted
her with wary, uncomfortable glances, one or two mocking, when
they realized their visitor was a woman. She had become accustomed
to receptions like this ever since, months ago, she had begun to present
her ideas about the Workers' Union to small groups in Paris and
Bordeaux. When she spoke she kept her voice steady, feigning more
confidence than she possessed. The distrust of her listeners gradually
evaporated as she explained how, by uniting, workers could get what
they yearned for the right to work, education, health, decent living
conditions-while so long as they were scattered they would always
be mistreated by the rich and those in power. All murmured their assent
when, in support of her ideas, she made reference to What Is
Property?, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's controversial book, which had
prompted so much talk in Paris since its appearance four years before,
with its emphatic assertion that property is theft. Two of those
present, who seemed to be followers of Charles Fourier, had come
ready to attack her, with arguments Flora had heard before from
Agricol Perdiguier. If workers had to subtract a few francs from their
miserable salaries to contribute to the Workers' Union, how would
they feed their children? She responded patiently to all their objections.
At least as far as contributions were concerned, she thought
they allowed themselves to be convinced. But their resistance was
stubborn on the question of marriage.
"You attack the family and want it to disappear. That isn't Christian,
"Indeed it is," she replied, on the verge of losing her temper. But
she softened her voice. "What isn't Christian is when a man buys himself
a woman, turns her into a child-bearing machine and beast of
burden, and on top of it all beats her senseless each time he has too
much to drink - all in the name of the sanctity of the family."
When she realized that they were staring at her wide-eyed, in dismay,
she suggested that they change the subject and instead imagine
together the advantages that the Workers' Union would bring
peasants, craftsmen, and workers like themselves. For example, the
Workers' Palaces-modern, clean, airy buildings where their children
would be educated and their families treated by good doctors
and nurses when they were in need of care or had been injured at
work. When their strength failed, or they were too old for the workshop,
they would retire to these welcoming homes to rest. The dull
and tired eyes gazing at her grew livelier, began to shine. Wasn't it
worthwhile to sacrifice a small part of their wages in exchange for
such gains? Some listeners nodded.
How ignorant, how foolish, how egotistical so many of them
were. She realized this when, after answering their questions, she began
to interrogate them. They knew nothing, they were completely
lacking in curiosity, and they were content with their animal lives. It
was an uphill battle to get them to devote any of their time or energy
to fighting for their sisters and brothers. Exploitation and poverty had
made them stupid. Sometimes it was tempting to believe that Saint-Simon
was right, Florita: the people were incapable of saving themselves;
only an elite could manage it. They had even been infected
with bourgeois prejudices: it was hard for them to accept that it
should be a woman-a woman!-who was urging them to take action.
The cleverest and most outspoken of them were unbearably arrogant
they put on aristocratic airs-and Flora had to make an
effort not to explode. She had sworn to herself that for the year her
tour of France lasted, she would give no cause, not ever, to deserve
the nickname Madame-la-Colère, which she was sometimes called by
Jules Laure and other friends because of her outbursts. In the end,
the thirty shoemakers promised to join the Workers' Union and tell
the carpenters, locksmiths, and stonecutters in the Duty to Be Free
society what they had heard that morning.
As she was returning to the inn along the winding cobbled streets
of Auxerre, she saw in a little square where four poplars were growing,
their leaves very new and white, a group of girls playing, making
and unmaking patterns as they ran about. She stopped to watch
them. They were playing the game called Paradise, which, according
to your mother, you used to play in the gardens of Vaugirard with
other little girls from the neighborhood, under the smiling gaze of
Mariano Tristán. Did you remember, Florita? "Is this the way to
Paradise?" "No, miss, try the next corner." And as the girl ran from
corner to corner seeking the elusive Paradise, the others amused
themselves by changing places behind her back.
Excerpted from THE WAY TO PARADISE
by MARIO VARGAS LLOSA
Copyright © 2003 by Mario Vargas Llosa.
Excerpted by permission.
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.
Posted April 22, 2009
No text was provided for this review.