Flora Tristán and her grandson Paul Gauguin

Paradise on the other corner (Alfaguara, 2003) of the Nobel Prize in Literature Mario Vargas Llosa tells the story of Flora Tristán (1801-1844) and that of her grandson, the painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

They did not know each other, when Gauguin was born Tristan had already died. In the novel, the relationship between the two arises from their dreams and their intense lives.

The grandmother, a socialist, struggles to install “paradise” on earth. The grandson for freeing himself from social ties and academicism, to be able to paint in the freedom he wants.

Both are guided by a utopia, she of a social character and he individual and artistic. One wants to change the world and the other the way of painting.

Tristán, daughter of a French woman and a Peruvian, when Peru was still a colony, travels to her father’s country to claim her legitimacy and the inheritance, which she thought corresponded. His father’s ecclesiastical marriage was not recognized and he did not get what he wanted.

The stay in his father’s country changed his life. He returned to France with clearer ideas about social injustice, misery, slavery and the subordinate role of women. He writes that experience in his book Pilgrimages of an Outcast (1838).

In the novel Tristán is the first great feminist in history. A French socialist who dedicates her last years to preaching throughout Europe in favor of the cause of the marginalized, of the workers and of the need to build a new society.

She marries for convenience, but after years she abandons her husband, then loses guardianship of the children and gains the rejection of the world in which she lives. Nothing stops her in her fight for the utopia in which she dreams.

Vargas Llosa presents a nineteenth century Europe where workers and peasants are exploited by an aristocracy indifferent and insensitive to what is happening. It also addresses the behavior of the Arequipa oligarchy, to which Tristán travels in search of his roots.

Gauguin is a young bourgeois with a prosperous job on the Paris Stock Exchange. One day he discovers painting and is attracted to it in such a way that he leaves everything behind. He abandons his wife and children and goes to live in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands.

There he begins to paint nature and models that are exotic to him. Then he becomes involved in the life of a civilization that he assumes as authentic and original. One that has nothing to do with Europe and its ways. Vargas Llosa develops a large part of the text dedicated to Gauguin from the description of his paintings.

The two characters, grandmother and grandson, have marked differences, but share the search for an ideal, a utopia, and the rejection of the conventional society in which they lived.

The unjust nineteenth century was also that of utopias. In the text Vargas Llosa mentions: Saint Simon, Fourier, Bakunin, Robert Owen and Karl Marx. Some of them influenced Tristan.

The book reflects extensive and solid research work. The writing, as in all Nobel Prize works, flows. Paradise on the other corner, can be located within the stream of fictionalized biographies.

Paradise on the other corner

Mario Vargas Llosa

Editorial Alfaguara

Mexico, 2003

pp. 485


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Flora Tristán and her grandson Paul Gauguin