Way to

Mario Vargas Llosa
Natasha Wimmer,

Part II
In the end, it is the fearsomely brave ever-vigilant lovely Flora Tristán who wins our hearts --- never stopping the battles against exploitation of the workers and the wives of France. Tristán on her fateful (and fatal) eight-month trip through the country in 1843 - 44 to spread the idea of "the Worker's Union."

    You had done it, Florita. Despite the bullet next to your heart, your ill health, your exhaustion, and the ominous, anonymous malady eroding your strength, for eight months you had done it. It you hadn't had more success, it wasn't for lack of effort, conviction, heroism, or idealism. It was because things never succeed as well in this life as they do in dreams. A pity, Florita.

Oh, she's a fighter. Whenever she runs into anyone who snoots women or the rich cruelly using the poor or a fat bishop pretending to do the works of Christ, she becomes fiery, passionate, non-stop:

    Eighty unfortunates were squeezed into a stifling cave crowded with three rows of looms, in which it was impossible to stand upright because the roof was so low, or to move because it was so cramped. A rathole, Andalusa [Flora]. She thought she was going to faint. The fiery heat of the furnace, the pestilence, and the deafening noise of the eighty looms working at once made her ill. She could barely form questions to put to the half-naked, dirty, skeletal beings crouched over the looms ... A world of ghosts, apparitions, the living dead. They worked from five in the morning until nine at night, and the men earned two francs a day, the women eighty centimes, and the children (under the age of fourteen) fifty centimes.

When she returns to meet with the owner, she says, "slowly and precisely,"

    As someone who began as a weaver, do you think it fair to make your fellow human beings work in such conditions? That workshop is worse than any sty I've ever seen.

Gauguin may be an artistic boor, but Flora is constantly fascinating. In addition to Vargas Llosa giving us these two droll characters, we get a fine lesson on 19th Century sweatshops, laws of marriage, the power of the Catholic church, the lives and ways of the Maoris before and after the coming of the French, various styles of Gauguin's painting, the Chartist Movement, the whorehouses of Lyon, the Bayaderes, the slave trade, Simón Bolívar, the long-term effects of syphilis, Flora's scheme for merging the efforts of exploited workers and exploited wives --- and, finally, the highly comic Battle of Cangallo, 1834, Peru. "Nieto's soldiers turned and ran in wild retreat towards Arequipa. At the same time, not knowing what was happening on the other side, and believing himself lost, General San Román also ordered his troops to retreat by forced marches, in view of the enemy's superior strength. In his flight, which was as desperate and ridiculous as Nieto's he didn't stop until he reached Vilque, forty leagues away."

    The picture of the two armies running from each other with their generals at their heads, each believing it had been defeated, was something you would always remember, Florita --- a symbol of the chaos and absurdity of life in your father's country, that endearing caricature of a republic.

--- Carlos Amantea
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Part I

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