Written by the brilliant Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho (1947– ), Eleven Minutes was originally published in Portuguese. This novel differs from the rest of the writer’s oeuvre as it deals with a subject which, Coelho states in the book’s dedication, is “harsh, difficult, shocking.” The novel explores the theme of the sanctity of sex by narrating the story of a young prostitute who eventually finds true love, realizing that sex for material gain is profane, and emotional love, if reciprocated by the partner, raises the sexual union to a holy act.
The title Eleven Minutes refers to the approximate duration for the act of coitus but connotes the infinite possibilities and meanings contained in this brief physical and emotional act. An invocation to the Virgin Mary, a dedication, a parable from the Bible, and an ancient hymn about the greatness of women serve as prologues to the main narrative. The novel’s fairy-tale opening yokes the innocent with the profane: “Once upon a time there was a prostitute called Maria.” The author immediately steps into the story to explain the difficulty in combining two contradictory mores, establishing the story’s realistic nature. Authorial intrusions, however, do not recur in the narrative. The detailed portrayal of the protagonist Maria’s quest for love helps to build her vibrant individualistic character. Excerpts from her diary appended at the end of every chapter, strikingly capturing Maria’s perceptions and emotions at different junctures in her life.
Maria, a naïve, attractive Brazilian girl, becomes heartbroken during her teenage years through her realization that love is a terrible and disappointing emotion that brings only pain and suffering. During a holiday trip to Rio de Janeiro, Maria meets a Swiss tourist, Roger, who is looking for girls to hire as dancers for his club in Geneva. Maria is attracted by his promises of money and accompanies him to Switzerland. However, due to the restrictions he imposes on the dancers and the little money he pays them, Maria soon has a falling-out with the man she thought to be her benefactor. She prefers to think of herself as “an adventurer in search of treasure,” like Santiago in Coelho’s masterpiece The Alchemist (1988), and, incidentally, has read a copy of that book.
In order to earn the money Maria requires for her return to Brazil, she starts working in another nightclub. She becomes fascinated by the ease with which a prostitute can earn money overnight, depending on the number of men she can charm and go to bed with. After a year of working as a prostitute, Maria meets in the nightclub a handsome young man called Ralf Hart, who is a renowned painter. Unlike the other men she has slept with, she realizes that Ralf looks at her not as a woman but as an individual with willpower and “inner light.” Ralf is not focused on Maria as a mere sex object. Her distrust of emotional bonding with men slowly wears off as she finds herself falling deeply in love with Ralf. Sex for the two young lovers becomes an exploration of the pleasures that the body promises when inspired by strong emotions. Maria starts hating her job as a prostitute. She feels that it is killing her soul, and she is also afraid that her discovery of true love and spiritual bonding with Ralf might be destroyed because of her carnal acts with other men.
Eleven Minutes also depicts other minor characters who are not given more narrative space than the work’s functionality demands. Maria’s experiences with Terence, an Englishman who teaches her about the relationship between pain, suffering, and pleasure, serve to titillate the reader. The librarian Heidi’s discussions with Maria are limited to sex and orgasms. However, the novel does not read like a sex manual or a pornographic work due to the author’s sensitive portrayal of Maria, which evokes the reader’s empathy.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Arias, Juan. Paulo Coelho: The Confessions of a Pilgrim. London: HarperCollins, 1999. Coelho, Paulo. Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Refl ections. London: HarperCollins: 2006.
Categories: Latin American Literature, Literature, Novel Analysis
You must be logged in to post a comment.