Saturday, June 7, 2008

Paulo Coelho, a Daring Author.

This essay looks into why Paulo Coelho would risk his reputation and fame to write about the contreversal topic of sex. I hope you like it:
It is magical that Paulo Coelho overcame the boundaries of gender and was able to write from the point of view of a female, more specifically, a Brazilian prostitute. Coelho explores the sanctity of sex, as well as the mysteries behind it, through his groundbreaking novel 11 minutes. Why would Paulo Coelho -- the author of the Alchemist, which is considered a gem of literature -- risk his fame and reputation to write about the controversial topic of sex in such an explicit and erotic way?

11 minutes was written as a method to help Coelho understand the sacred topic of sex. He admitted that the only way he finally came to understanding the deeper meaning of sex was through years of research and talking to people, such as Maria. In the end he concluded that sex was ultimately 'a manifestation of a spiritual energy called love.' It is typical of Paulo Coelho to go ruthlessly after a certain topic; his persistence is what sets him apart from many other writers. He will dig and dig until he finally finds his treasure; which is often in the form of answers to his questions. This is one reason why Coelho wrote this book -- he needed to understand the deeper meaning of sex because he knew it was so much more than a 'response to certain physical stimuli'.

Paulo Coelho attempted to write 11 minutes many times but failed, time after time. One day after a conference in Italy, a manuscript about the life of a prostitute was left on his bed. Although this was not the answer to his questions, it was a start…a glimmer of hope. He later met the prostitute named Maria who provided the 'connecting thread' needed to write 11 minutes. It was through working with her, reflecting on experiences of his life and intertwining his views that he finally finished the novel. He realized that in order to write about sex '[he] had to start with the fear that everything would go wrong'. Although the book was greatly influenced by Maria, it is more of a 'blend of people' and a mixture of experiences.

It was daring of Coelho to write 11 minutes, knowing that if he failed to deliver, he would face the possibility of thousands of readers worldwide losing interest in his writing. It was a huge challenge -- not many authors write about such a variety of topics. Many tend to stick to one theme or genre and never dare to explore anywhere else outside their ‘comfort zone’. This is one reason why Coelho is an extraordinary writer; he is able to weave his magic into every novel, regardless the genre– something only a handful of authors can do.

The life of Maria is very much the symbol of the American dream; she is a poor Brazilian girl who moves to Geneva in hope of a better life -- one of wealth, happiness and love. Instead, she finds herself trapped, with no money far from home, and finally resorts to prostitution. It is evident through the way that Coelho portrays prostitution in his book that he views little wrong with the practice. He does, however, underline that the life of prostitutes is one of great misery. What Maria does is not regarded as having sex with her clients, it is merely ‘opening her legs two, three times a day’ and moaning for 300 franks. The life of Maria is a sad one, considering that throughout the entire novel, she is working – to no avail -- in hopes of buying a ticket back home and to purchase a chunk of land. These dreams cause Maria to live for the future and to rarely appreciate whatever good she has in her life as it is.

When Paulo Coelho was interviewed regarding 11 minutes, no questions were asked as to whether any sections of the book reflected real life experiences. As a famous quote goes ‘’…no author can write about sex without writing about their own life’. I believe this is true and that some of what Coelho wrote in 11 minutes definitely must have reflected his experiences. These experiences may have been Coelho’s original drive to write about and understand sex. One part of the book, which accurately reflects on Cohelo’s life, is the road to Santiago. This 500-mile journey can be found subtly woven into many of Coelho’s other novels. In 11 minutes, the life of Maria changes at the road to Santiago because she finally finds love -- Her ‘body and soul reintegrate’. Ralf, a wealthy man who ends up falling in love with Maria, has a short conversation with her about the road. I believe Coelho reflected himself in this character; Ralf is not only wise, he is trying to uncover the deeper meaning of sex, (similar to Coelho).

During the Novel 11 minutes Maria is confronted by two seemingly opposite paths, one of pain for pleasure and one of the sanctity of sex. Through Maria we learn that, ultimately, they are both a form of pleasure and happiness. Pain, and idea that you must suffer to feel the good in life, somewhat frees Maria’s soul. Sacred sex is presented as a beautiful unspoken practice of the spiritual energy created by love. An example of this idea of pain for pleasure is when Maria is walking bare foot on sharp stones with Ralf. Every step she takes prolongs the pain, but she is willing to suffer through that pain. Maria encounters the idea of pain for pleasure a few other times in the novel, and each time, she refuses to ‘give in’ to the pain. Through this, much of Maria’s character is revealed, especially her willingness to explore the unknown. Pain itself can be used as a tool to make one stronger, which could ideally transform into a form of pleasure. According to Aria Juan, writer of “Paulo Coelho: Confession of a pilgrim’’, Coelho at one point of his life was imprisoned. During his sentence, it is said he was tortured; this may have been his greatest encounter of pain which I believe lead him to exploring the idea of ‘pain for pleasure’. In the novel, Maria seams to enjoy pain in some sense, as if it makes her feel human. When she is with a special client (a mysterious man who whips her), she could have asked him to stop at any time, but she didn’t. It is Maria’s curiosity that makes her both weak and strong at the same time.

With high risk come high rewards, Paulo Coelho lived up his well-built reputation with his novel 11 minutes, proving to the world that he is an all-round author. He did not just write a book about sex; he wrote about love and everything that comes with it -- sex, pleasure, happiness, pain and so on. After finishing his novel, Coelho was satisfied, not because he had managed to condense years of work into 269 pages, but because he had found his answer – and to him, these answers are priceless.

-Coelho, Paulo. 11 minutes. New York: HarperTorch, 2003.
-De Janeiro, Rio. "Paulo Coelho on Eleven Minutes." March 2003 26 May 2008

-Juan, Arias. "Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim." 26 May 2008

-Scott, Whitney. "Coelho, Paulo. Eleven Minutes." Booklist 100.13 (March 1, 2004): 1100(1). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Singapore American School. 26 May 2008

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