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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 30, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

NOA NOA: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin translated by O.F. Theis. (Chronicle: $17.95; 147 pp.) Just when you thought you might escape to France to resurrect your sensual self, here is the journal Gaugin kept when he ran away from France to Tahiti. Unable to find a publisher after his return to France, Gaugin published the journal himself, but Chronicle has now published a version that includes the drawings the artist made in the margins. "I am leaving," he wrote upon his departure after only two years (1894-1896), "older by two years, but twenty years younger; more barbarian than when I arrived, and yet much wiser." He admired the Maoris in his own way, but was oddly successful in finding exactly what he seemed to be looking for. "I question," he wrote, lying in bed with his 13-year-old wife Tehura, plucked in a trip to a neighboring village to cure Gaugin's "restlessness," "and not all of my questions remain unanswered." Gauguin went to Tahiti, as we know, to shake off "the absurdities of civilization." And really, this is a journal about a culture seen through its women. "With the beautiful instinct of her race," he says of the queen, Marau, "she dispersed grace everywhere about her, and made everything she touched a work of art." "All indeed," Gaugin observes of these women, "wish to be 'taken,' literally, brutally 'taken,' without a single word." Of his first Maori courtesan, Titi, he writes, "There is a fire in her blood, which calls forth love as its essential nourishment; which exhales it like a fatal perfume. These eyes and this mouth cannot lie." And of his wife: "Tehura never disturbs me when I work or when I dream. . . . She knows perfectly when she can speak without disturbing me." "I am learning to know the silence of a Tahitian night," Gauguin wrote, but one still wonders what happened to that young Tahitian bride when her French husband of two years left her on the beach.

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