IN MARIO VARGAS Llosa's latest novel there are two stories - that of Paul Gauguin, the Post-Impressionist painter, and that of Gauguin's grandmother Flora Tristan. Flora never met her grandson - she died in 1844, four years before his birth - and at first glance thev seem to have little in common: Flora was a suffragette, thought poets monsters of egotism, and, after a disastrous marriage, renounced sex; Gauguin, by contrast, set out to create his own private Eden, believed art was inseparable from religion, and was a sexual libertine. But as their stories unfold in alternate chapters, narrated through a series of flashbacks, we come to see that they share more than simple blood ties.
Both spent time in the author's native Peru and were indelibly marked, if not transformed, by the experience. Flora, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Peruvian father and a French mother, grew up in poverty in Paris and sailed to South America to claim her inheritance. She was radicalised by