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Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

“Its nothing but soft porn”- was the first comment I heard when a friend of mine saw me reading Eleven Minutes by none other than the master storyteller and my all time favourite Paulo Coelho. For a moment I thought i would give up, but I choose to continue. The reason was simple my faith in Paulo’s creativity and his unusual thought process. And now that I have finished the book I dont regret spending my time and energy reading this novel. Unusual surely, this book does make you feel at times that its nothing more than Paulo Coelho’s knowledge about woman anatomy and sex. But a broader and a closer look does get you to think about the different aspects of a woman’s life from a different points of view. Can’t compare it with “The Alchemist” though, Eleven Minutes is definitely worth a quick read.

Eleven Minutes is a tale about Maria, a young girl living in Brazil’s unsophisticated interior. Maria’s unsuccessful experiments with men and romance at her girlhood days convinced her that love is a delusion, or at least it is not for her. Attaining her maturity, she becomes a sales girl with limited prospects for a better life in the future. But sudden change in fate becomes inevitable when a vacation to Rio brings her into contact with a Swiss tourist named Roger, who was looking to hire dancers for his club in Geneva. It was nothing less than dream come true for Maria who finally started believing that she is in for a high flier life. Unfortunately things were not as rosy as she expected and eventually after falling out with Roger, she drifts on her own initiative into life as a bar-girl. Quickly adapting to the coarse but not uninteresting role of prostitute, she endures nearly a year of service, until she has accumulated enough money to return to Brazil in style. Maria quickly mastered the act of satisfying men on one hand and on the other she lived a life of any ordinary simple girl with her dreams and aspirations. When Maria was all set to live Geneva for Brazil, she meets a young artist, Ralf Hart and begins to fall in love, disturbing her hard-won equilibrium and raising the issue of whether the two halves of her nature can be satisfied by any one man.

Eleven Minutes is by far a book about sex. You can cut a cake anyways, but a cake remains a cake. And thats what this book is about. Paulo in his own style has tried various interpretation but at the end that’s what it comes down to – sex is after all sex. The title itself refers to the length of time it takes to commit the act, eleven minutes. The world we live in revolves around sex, no matter how much people try to disguise or argue that fact. Rather than dispute it or make sex ugly, Coehlo presents sex as a beautiful lesson to be mastered as one gains experience. Interestingly Paulo has atributed sacredness to sex thus making it nothing less than a divine affair.

This novel is typically about Maria’s trials and triumphs-she goes from restaurant dancer to high-class prostitute-would make for an entertaining if rather prosaic novel, but Coelho, does not leave it there. Instead, he embarks on a philosophical exploration of sexual love, using Maria’s pseudo-philosophical diary entries as a means for expounding on the nature of sexual desire, passion and love. However, if you’re able to get through the more graphic parts with an open mind, you will find that this is more a book about love – and how we confuse sex & love – and how we no longer seem to be able to find the love in sex… Also cannot deny the fact that through Maria we are able to see some of the ugliest sides of sex. But it is through her development as a character that we are able to appreciate the beauty of the act of sex as well. And here comes Paulo’s mastery which is worth an applause. To have a thinking cap on for something so mundane routine human act as sex is highly commendable. Though at times the whole plot looks very preachy but a closer look does gives you feeling of how things are and should be.

The strength of the book is the simplicity of Coelho’s writing. It truly is fascinating, just that it is nice to finally see a prostitute not as a helpless victim but just a woman trying to survive even though many in reality might be victims…Nevertheless, Eleven Minutes if not like The Alchemist but does have a positive point in every stage. Though the only hitch I have is the opening line…”once upon a time there was a prostitute called Maria…” sounds as if the beginning of a fairy tale. I wonder how much fairy tale does a prostitute have in her life….!!!!

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