By Asif Khan
Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s novel, Eleven Minutes (Portuguese: Onze Minutos, 2003) takes us through the experiences of a young Brazilian sex-worker and her journey to self-realization. Paulo Coelho de Souza is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist, best known for his book, The Alchemist. Though he was raised in a Catholic family and claims to be a follower of that faith even now, he is seen incompatible with catholic faith by its professors because of its New Age, pantheist and relativist contents.
Maria, a beautiful Brazilian girl, goes to Europe to work as an exotic dancer but ends up becoming a prostitute. She wants to earn enough money to be able to buy a farm in Brazil and live with her parents there. Maria enlightens us about the crude realities of this murky world in a philosophical manner. She tears male tissues apart to dig deep and reveal their truth and realities.
The book is quite well-written and maintains its rapid flow as it moves forward. Coelho has this special ability to keep the readers hooked. I finished his The Alchemist in two days because it kept me curious throughout. Eleven Minutes is no exception. His natural flow and skill of raising curiosity among readers are absolutely commendable.
But as the book reaches its climax, curiosity dies as it fails to deliver on its promises. The author hasn’t said anything new about the philosophy of life, though this book gives such an impression at the beginning. And this sums up the problem with the book.
Another issue with the novel is that the author in a quest to go deeper into its subject has revealed certain things that look discrete and unwanted. The intricate details about sexual intimacy or encounters does not need to be revealed at a level which Coelho has done in this book. Sadomasochism as described in the book may also spice up things for new readers but such things don’t usually find a place in literary works. That may be why we categorize works of writers like Coelho under popular fiction banner. The author documents everything that could well make this book popular among his audience.
Maria, to whom Eleven Minutes belongs, is intelligent and believes in learning through books. She is gifted with a good intellect and reasoning through which she takes her decisions. Here, I think that the author has missed the trick. Why would Maria choose a profession like prostitution to know the realities of life? Perhaps she had alternate ways (intellectual paths) to satisfy her thirst for the reality of life. And, she might have easily succeeded in her persuasion towards the reality, especially with the kind of intellect she is shown possessing.
Maria’s diary is surely the highlight of the book for me. She classifies men into three categories: the Exterminator (in homage to a film she had enjoyed hugely), the Pretty Woman type (again named after a film) and lastly, the Godfather type (named after another film). One of my favourite lines in the book occurs on page sixteen as the first note in the diary: “I see that those who touched my heart failed to arouse my body, and those who aroused my body failed to touch my heart.” The title of the book is totally justified and is in sync with the plot.
Well, at the end, I would say that this novel can be a great read for those who don’t read many books. This may generate their interest in book reading, especially in those of Paulo Coelho. But if you are regular reader, this is not for your bookshelf.
Asif Khan is pursuing Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Kashmir. His collection of poems, Prisoners of Paradise, was a best-selling book in Kashmir. He is also a features writer (journalist) at Free Press Kashmir.
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