Books: Kindred Spirits

Mario Vargas Llosa weaves a vivid tale of Gauguin's and his grandmother's lives

Gauguin is more to us than a great painter. He's our ultimate escape artist, the stockbroker who hightailed it to the breadfruit and warm surf and nipples of the South Seas, where his palette and his libido flourished, the man who said no to civilization and really meant it.

As it turns out, refusal ran in his family. Gauguin's maternal grandmother, Flora Tristan, was a spiritual fugitive of another kind, a pre-Marxist socialist visionary who traveled across provincial France in the 1840s, preaching a gospel of class justice and the liberation of women. In The Way to Paradise (Farrar, Straus &...

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