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This is the story of an artist who was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of art. In much of its general outline, this famous novel follows the life of Paul Gauguin, famous French post-impressionist painter, but it is not a novelized biography of Gauguin. Rather it is a sharply-delineated, carefully wrought "private life", written by one of the most vivid and penetrating contemporary literary masters.

Charles Strickland, the central character, is a stock broker in London. One day, at the age of 40, he leaves his business, his wife, and their children and goes to Paris. He has neither money nor prospects. He knows almost nothing of art. But he is seized with a passion to paint, and for the rest of his life nothing else matters to him. He gives up everything to which he has been accustomed for extreme poverty, social ostracism, and the freedom to paint. When he finally dies of leprosy in Tahiti, where he had gone native, the few paintings that turn up for sale bring only six to 10 francs apiece. But he has achieved his desire to create beauty and, with the years, the world fully recognizes his blazing genius.

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