Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Eleven Minutes - Paulo Coelho (Book Review)

 This review provides a short synopsis of the book Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho and what I took from reading it. The power of words is clearly stronger than we'd like to imagine.

I have been an avid reader for the most part of my life, UNTIL I “grew up”. And I started telling myself that I have no time to read anymore. I had a long to read list for the longest time, then I realised that so many are the times that I have time to do other things but no time to read. I had totally forgotten how amazing it is to pick up a book and not want it to end but also not want to put it down. How you look for every chance you get to flip another page. And thank God the books that have pulled me back to reading were the kind that I could relate to as a human being. The author pulls you into the story and you totally immerse yourself into it. I actually cried while reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

So my reading fire woke up after a very long time and I decided to run back to Paulo Coelho. I got down to reading Eleven Minutes and this being the second book I have read by him, I had a feeling I would not be disappointed. And I wasn’t. This certain book is about a prostitute and I found it so funny how the book started with “Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria”. The title is actually about how sex is so idolised yet the act itself doesn’t take more than eleven minutes. Anyway, it was deeper than sex. As freaky as this sounds, I feel that this book changed my life and my view of things. Maybe it’s the hullabaloo for New Year new things but for some reason I think this kind of change will last. 

It starts out in a remote village in Brazil where Maria was born.  She had dreams of having a wedding someday, a husband and a good life and she and her prince charming could conquer the world. But after a few innocent brushes with love, she decided there was no such thing as love and “love spoiled everything”.  She also wanted to visit Rio de Janeiro for a week after working in a draper’s shop for two years and had saved enough. So off she went. A chance meeting in Rio with a man who asked her to be the main attraction in a night club in Switzerland sets the pace for the whole novel. She travels to Switzerland to become a samba dancer and a Brazilian star but quits after realising that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to become a model but since things didn’t work out as she had expected, she moved to Rue de Berne, Geneva’s red light district. Despite bulk of the story featuring her as a prostitute, this was one determined and hardworking prostitute. As fate would have it, she met a young Swiss painter, Ralf, one day in a restaurant when she was looking for the “route to Santiago”. When she was leaving, Ralf asked her to wait as he wanted to paint a portrait of her as she had an “inner light” in her. They click, almost immediately and she is torn between her sexual fantasies with Ralf and her love for him. Plus she has no faith in love as it has caused her so much distress in the past. 

After a year working at Copacabana and meeting Ralf, she decides that it is now time to go back home. She was also afraid that letting love takeover would lead to her being lax about her promise to go back to Brazil. So she plans her trip back where she envisaged buying cows, a small farm, inviting her parents to live with her, taking a couple of workers and starting a business. Anyway, as fate would have it, Ralf followed her without her knowledge to Paris where she had a connecting flight to Brazil. All this after she had given up after her movie-like hope of Ralf coming to Geneva airport and begging her not to go and kissing her and wrapping his arms around her and  “The End” showing on an imaginary screen after their happy reunion. Of course this wasn’t a movie. So I guess, the rest as they say, is history. Who am I kidding – I don’t know what happens next as Paulo decided that was where the book would end. Anyway I took a lot from Maria, the prostitute.

This prostitute was looking for a way to better her life. It led to her working to be the best prostitute there is and she earned the admiration of clients and her boss and the envy of her colleagues who were also awed by her hard work. I know all this sounds icky – talking about how a prostitute was the best at her job, but Paulo has a way of using the weirdest analogies to explain something deeper. Through his words and his characters, he pushes you to go beyond your limit. To look beyond your weaknesses and strive to be a better human being. Not to brood over spilt milk or things that are beyond you. How to work with what you have and learn to be the best in this very short and very long life. And that’s just what Maria (I have stopped calling her the prostitute) did. She was heartbroken so many times but in the end she found love – in the most unexpected place. She worked so hard, so diligently.  She was not settling for less. She would go out of her way to learn how to be better at what she did. I actually related with her, with the struggles she went through, with all the negative things she had gone through and how she rose above them. I am the kind to sit and wallow in sadness about things but her character showed me that you have to be happy with what you have. What will wallowing and feeling sad for yourself do for you? For a little bit its ok but certainly not for extended periods! After all, I alone am the master of my fate: my happiness and my sadness. Her character showed me the value of working diligently, in everything you do. Either you do it to the best of your ability or you don’t do it at all. She never accepted less. So Paulo Coelho, through Maria, pushed me, at a time of the year when it’s all about resolutions, to understand that there is nothing I cannot overcome if I set my heart to it. That there is nothing I cannot conquer if I have the will and spirit. That I can achieve great things if I believe in myself. If I have positive energy. So 2015 – thank you for bringing back Paulo Coelho in my life, at the most opportune moment. Thank you for awakening in me the zest for great things that I let sleep for a long time. Thank you for the shove given to me, through Paulo and the positive people I have surrounded myself with. As he said in The Alchemist “When you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” And “We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favour, even though we may not understand how.”  Let’s kick ass in 2015.

PS: I have just gotten into reading another of Paulo Coelho’s books Veronika Decides to Die. I might not blog about it but the first few pages are already so enthralling. Look out for the best quotes from Eleven Minutes in my next post.


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