Paulo Coelho’s books, as the book covers declare, have changed lives. He writes about spirituality in a very fresh and modern way without being biased religiously or morally – though he has tales of morality to tell. It’s perhaps ironic then that his stories are so short.
First Published: 2003 in Portuguese; 2004 in English
Date Reviewed: 3rd September 2009
Original language: Portuguese
Original title: Onze Minutos (Eleven Minutes)
Translated by: Margaret Jull Costa
I don’t know much about the success of Eleven Minutes but I’d hazard a guess that it hasn’t been as well-received.
Maria lives in a small Brazilian town but knows that there is more to the world and wants to experience life to the full. For her this means travelling and living abroad. She journeys to Rio de Janiro where she signs up as a dancer and is whisked to Switzerland, dreams of happiness, money, and a husband leading her by the hand. But the dancing is boring and after an agency unintentionally set her up with a man willing to part with a thousand francs for a night with her she makes a decision that will set her on a path entirely different to the one she was on. Down the Rue De Berne, where the nights are scented with sex and the days are reserved for slumber she begins to discover the truth of intercourse and how the world has come to rely so heavily on it.
Let’s get down to business. Is there a lot of sex in this book – yes. But although quite graphic in places Coelho has managed to keep the story tasteful and one feels that whenever he does write graphically it’s with a specific purpose, he has a message to get across each time. Nor does Coelho stick with one type of sex, covering a good number and subtly weighing them up. Interesting here is how he will come to one conclusion and then later on change it in the way one does when they make a further discovery about something for which they’d previously had a strong opinion. He does this without apologising for as discussed above he remains for the most part neutral and non-judgemental.
Apart from Maria, or maybe even including Maria, the characters aren’t very important in themselves. They are there as props to get the message across. None of them are hateful though neither are they particularly fabulous. Maria is a personification of Coelho’s thought process and moves back and forth through opinions with him. You can’t sink your teeth into these characters and you won’t miss them after finishing the book but in this man’s publications that is neither here nor there.
It’s hard to talk about the language used in the book because unless you are reading the Brazilian version the words will have been translated from the original Portuguese. I can’t remember finding any errors in the print.
Eleven Minutes promotes the view that sex can be sacred; the world has just forgotten this. It explains convincingly how we’ve come to use sex as a method of healing when really what we need lies within us, and that using sex as an excuse only serves to keep the cycle going. This is done by weighing up elements such as asexuality and pain for pleasure and detailing the cause and effects. It won’t have the impact on you that The Alchemist had but there’s enough here to make you reconsider what you’ve learned and been taught and perhaps even apply parts of it to your own life.
Eleven Minutes was originally written in Portuguese, and was translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa.
April 22, 2010, 7:46 pm
I’ve never read anything by Coelho. I don’t think this book would be the place to start, I often feel embarassed by lots of sex in books, even if it manages to stay tasteful. I might want to read the Alchemist someday, see how Coelho does all the lifechanging he’s supposed to accomplish.
Charlie: If you haven’t read him before, this book isn’t a good one, you’re right to think that. There’s some life changing material in The Alchemist, though to be honest I think for most people (me included) it’s more of a reason to think than something as big as life changing. I’d say it depends on who you are and who you want to be whether you find that ultimate quality in it.