Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho, publisher- Harper Collins, New York in March 2005
Paulo Coelho is currently one of the most famous Latin American authors. He is originally from Brazil and has been enthralling readers around the world with his charismatic fictional expertise for last nearly three decades.
His spellbinding novel The Alchemist is regarded as his masterpiece that tells the story of a shepherd named Santiago who pursues his drive for finding hidden treasures which he visualized in a dream.
Through his adventurous efforts to make his dream true, he came across a wide variety of people and places, faces different sorts of hazards, explores the significance of love and most remarkably, discovered the true meaning of life on top of getting hold of the treasures he had been questing for.
The novel that I am going to write about is Eleven Minutes, another beautiful book with Coelho's extraordinary fictional dexterity and wonderfully lifelike characterization. Maria, a young girl living in a remote village in Brazil, cherishes colourful dreams in her minds about becoming self-reliant, attaining fame and glory and presenting a blissful and comfortable life to her parents.
Like all other girls of her age, Maria also loves to believe that someday a gallant prince-like man will carry her off to a land of wonders and perennial happiness. Such portrayal of Maria by Paulo Coelho reminds us of the widely read story Cinderella. Paulo Coelho tells his stories with a leaning that borders on fairy tales, but he exhibits the power of his characters who, despite hostile circumstances, succeed to turn imagination into reality.
Maria wanted to turn around the wheels of her destiny. One day she came across a stranger from Switzerland who offered to take her to Geneva to place her in a job at a firm of that first-world city. He was impressed by Maria's youthful prettiness and attractive physical features.
The man also pledged to pay her a lucrative salary for the proposed job. Maria found it hard to decline the offer as she had been waiting for something like this for many years. As Maria consented to the offer made by the Swiss man, a diasporic episode of her life opened up which was going to put her in the middle of a labyrinth that she had never imagined before.
Her quenchless ambitions drove her forward and persuaded her to ignore the probable perils that might come her way. However, as Maria reached Geneva with that stranger, she found things totally different from what the Swiss fellow had told her in Brazil. She received a far less salary than she had been promised.
This was a massive jolt for Maria who, due to her lack of ideas about the real world, fell a victim to such a humbug. Maria's vision of Switzerland was a colorful one. Geneva is a major city in Switzerland and is one of the finest places on earth with no poverty, no hunger, no social discrimination, still she had to get deceived in that developed and placid city. But Maria has been characterized in Eleven Minutes as a self-motivated girl who is a hard nut to crack.
She was shocked, but not shattered. She met the Swiss fellow who had brought her to Geneva from her hometown in Brazil. She persuaded the man to compensate her threatening him that otherwise she would seek justice from the concerned Swiss authorities.
As she secured the money, which was a very good amount, she decided to upgrade herself for making adjustment to Geneva, for facilitating her survival in that city.
She knew very well that only the fittest survive in this grim world. She learnt French because this language is widely spoken in Geneva and having proficiency in this language would make it easy for her to find a good job.
Maria prepared herself for any type of employment, but she did not want to go back home in tears with a story of failure to generate sympathy from others. While she was searching for a congenial job, destiny placed her in a nightclub owned by a man called Milan who had migrated to Geneva from former Yugoslavia.
Maria found women from different countries working for that nightclub. She came to know from her employer that she would have to entertain her customers not just by dancing with them inside the nightclub; rather she would also have to give them pleasure by accompanying them to hotels and apartments.
It didn't take Maria long to figure out what that meant--she got the job of a call girl like all other women working with her. Maria had no choice. She had to stick to that job.
One day Maria happened to meet a young Swiss artist named Ralf Hart. He sought Maria's approval to make a portrait of her to display it in one of his exhibitions.
Maria allowed him to do so. Simultaneously, she was surprised to find someone who, for the first time during her job as a sex worker in Geneva, envisioned her in an artistic way, not with lust in his eyes. Ralf Hart was more interested to illustrate Maria on his canvas rather than spending those ecstatic eleven minutes with her inside a hotel room.
He told Maria that she had an inner light that only an artist's vision could trace. He found in Maria the glow of true beauty and innocence. His company made Maria forget the unholy profession she was involved in.
And it appeared to Maria that, finally she found the man she had been waiting for, who would love her from a sublime point of view and who would view her as a woman to be adored, not someone to have pleasure with for just eleven minutes in a private place.
At the end of Eleven Minutes, Maria is found boarding a plane that would carry her back to her hometown in Brazil from where she had migrated to Switzerland in quest of a better fortune.
She had no regrets because she made an adequate amount of money while living in Geneva which would be highly beneficial to materialize her dreams of building up a cattle farm and buying a home and more significantly, she would no longer have to go back to a red-light area. Moreover, finding a man that would love her from the core of his heart added an unprecedented form of happiness to her life.
The reviewer is a columnist for
The Asian Age