Paulo Coelho's title refers to what his protagonist Maria discovers about the sexual act: it takes only eleven minutes on average to complete and yet people are obsessed with it. The novel begins in Brazil, where young Maria suffers her first unrequited loves and determines that she will never bare her heart again. When an accidental meeting on a Rio beach offers Maria an Swiss adventure, she leaves her Brazilian life behind. Once in Geneva, she becomes a prostitute by night and a consumer of books and facts by day. What Maria learns as she explores both the darkest and the most mundane recesses of desire seems to confirm what she has believed all along, that eleven minutes of pleasure is hardly worth the effort. However, when she meets two extraordinarily different gentlemen who take her to unexpected places within herself, the truth of these eleven minutes is challenged.
The novel begins like a fairy tale - "Once upon a time, there was a prostitute named Maria" - and this opening sentence unfortunately sets a cold, impersonal tone that takes Coelho several chapters to overcome. Although the language retains this removed simplicity throughout, Maria's predicament gradually engages the reader as Maria takes a more active and personal role in the story. Maria, it is clear, is not an "average" prostitute - if there can be such a person - and her unique perspective forms the soul of ELEVEN MINUTES. Her ambition and curiosity distinguish her from not only her colleagues but from everyone else in Geneva.
At times the intellectual discussions of desire and love can get tedious, as Coelho is at his best in the midst of scenes and description, but overall this novel is a lively "fairy tale" with a prostitute as its unlikely heroine. As Coelho notes in his Afterword, the thematic thrust of the novel came to him well before the protagonist and her story, and it shows. Readers who want a strong story and intimate characterization should look elsewhere, since Maria's adventures and discoveries are carefully folded into the novel's concept. Others, though, will find Coelho's newest novel an intriguing exploration of not only those important eleven minutes but also everything that leads up to them.
on January 9, 2006
This is the second book I've read from this author, and I am quite stunned by how different "The Alchemist" is from this book, "Eleven Minutes". Yet, even with their many differences, there is still the similar thread of telling a story that will make the reader think about their own lives, their own beliefs & their own thoughts...
"Eleven Minutes" is, on the surface, a book about sex - and all the good and bad associated with it. 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...
It is about one woman's journey from an innocent young girl who believed that she had squandered her only chance at love, to a young woman who chooses the life of prostitution, to a woman who, although still young, has decided to open her heart again to allow "real" love in.
Although I found this book to be really interesting, I have to point out that it's not for the "faint of heart", nor is it for people who believe that sex is a sin. In fact, I believe that the only way one can gain anything from this book is if they approach it with a totally open mind, and allow the author to take you along on this journey, and to help you learn what you will along the way...
An interesting side note is that this book is based on a true story.
on June 16, 2004
I admit it - I don't like surprises. When I go to a restaurant, I always order the same thing. After all, if I know one thing is good, why try something else? Surprise parties? I hate them - they scare the crap out of me. Plot twists in movies? I think they're so rarely done well, they only annoy me.
So when I saw Paulo Coehlo's new book, Eleven Minutes, on the bookshelf, I knew I had to get it. After all, I adored the other book I had read by him, The Alchemist. I reveled in the idea of curling up on my couch with an old friend - how I equate reading books by authors I like.
Eleven Minutes is a book about sex. You can cut it other ways, but that's what it comes down to. The title itself refers to the length of time it takes to commit the act. 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.
Maria is a prostitute from a small town in Brazil who gets convinced to move to Geneva, Switzerland, to become a stage sensation. Doing Brazilian dances at a sleazy bar does not bring the fame Maria wishes so she gets out of her contract and tries to fend for herself in Geneva. With no money and little knowledge of the language though, she ends up working as a prostitute.
While Maria's entrance into prostitution is probably pretty typical, she is not who one imagines when they think of a sex worker. She visits the library religiously and during downtimes at her workplace, she reads and takes notes on matters of psychiatry, love, sex and farm management. She learns to provide for her clients physical and mental needs. She saves her money and she has adventures while she bides her time until her return home to Brazil.
Coehlo makes an astute choice in having the main character in his book, which honors sex, be a prostitute. 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.
In his celebration of sex and love, Coehlo is a success. Sadly though, in Eleven Minutes, Coehlo is a victim of his own style. In The Alchemist, a book worth anyone's time, he tells a good story that has a tendency at points to become preachy, but the story itself wins out and the novel is excellent. In Eleven Minutes, Coehlo seems unable to resist his tendency to preach and much of the book becomes his opinion - his take on how things are and should be.
I read the book Eleven Minutes quickly - I ate it up and when I had to take a break, I couldn't wait to start reading again. All said and done, though, I would rather curl up on my couch with The Alchemist, as it's a much more loyal friend.
on October 18, 2005
What is sex? This is what Coelho seems to be asking, and ultimately answering (not to my satisfaction, though) in this unlikely novel. In his characteristic fairy-tale style,(a story-teller who seems a bit detached) he tackles the mind of a prostitute, and we follow her progression from pretty and naive teenager in rural Brazil, through the big city and on through to Switzerland where she eventually becomes a prostitute, but one who apparently doesn't quite get what sex is all about, that is, she doesn't reach orgasm.
To Coelho orgasm and the joy of sex apparently are the gates to the uyltimate symbolic union with the Divine. As a man, he seems to be exploring a woman's sexuality and the connection to spirituality.
I didn't get the connection, and feel that his other novel "The Alchemist" is a better book, which does lead us to existential exploration of our perennial quest for self.
For those who want a good read with serious metaphysical explorations, read "The Alchemist". Also read Grigor Fedan's "Dream Maker:A Mystical Tale". Both novels are excellent in their own right. The first is a parable of life, the second tackles the "big questions" and is a true story of reincarnation.
on June 13, 2007
Eleven Minutes was my introduction to Paulo Coelho, and what a start - this is a beautifully written story despite the debatable subject matter which is portrayed tastefully at all times. The author manages to cover such topics as sexual abuse and sado-masochism yet retain an aura of eloquence. Now, that's style.
This is one of those stories that I keep thinking about and remembering, three years after I turned the final page, and few books have left impressions like that on me. Come to think about it, Eleven Minutes is one of the most memorable books I have read throughout my not-so-young life.
Coelho is an artist and an inspiration not only to his readers, but to other writers as well. Add this to your library if you can.
on November 19, 2004
In Response to Kosovar in New York: Sex is merely the vehicle Coelho is using to prove his points and most of them (or at least one of them) isn't/aren't as lewd as you think it is. Sex is humans' mean to intimacy and "oneness", either with God or the person you love.
The description of Maria's early sexual exploration in the beginning of the novel wasn't to stir any arousal within us. If one really understood the intentions of writers, one would know that it was merely blocks in order to build the overall plot and meaning of the book.
People who are disgusted with the highly volatile nature of the sex are like the people who frown down on the same subject in "Eleven Minutes" like the librarian. But if one decides to delve deeper into the novel, one realizes that Coelho's usage of sex isn't all about orgies, XXX, or other disgusting activities which only exploit the meaning of sex. It's about humans' (in this case, woman's) realization of the significance of their inner being, of being able to feel important when the other sex understands our body, and thus understands our soul.
I wish Kosovar would get over his/her difficulties with such things (sex) which because of society and history's oppression, loses its underlying meaning of mankind and their closeness to God.
on September 19, 2005
I absolutely adored this book and read it in two days. So many times I found my self getting teary-eyed as a I read Maria's diary and followed her journey of self-discovery through one of the most misunderstood and misused gifts we humans possess--sex. Paulo's ability to show the beautiful co-mingling of sex, love, loneliness and pain, his understanding of the true sex act being a prayer--a way to touch Divinity, and his ability to show the these things through characters that are enticingly human make this one of my all time favorite novels. I love how he slips past the insignificant barriers of race, gender, nationality, language, sexual deviance and morality to present Maria's adventure as the pursuit of truth...beautiful, individual truth guided by instinct and destiny. This is such a rich story that I would enthusastically encourage anyone with an open mind to read. Eleven Minutes is an exploration into the things we crave most out of life presented in a way that will awaken your soul and change the way you love and make love.
on May 30, 2004
"Eleven Minutes" is the first book I have read by Paulo Coelho. Although there were some things about it which I felt detracted from the overall experience, I ended up reading it in one day, which is about as high praise as you can give a book. This is a story which has been done before, where a young woman (Maria) leaves her home to seek fame and fortune and ends up on the streets. What this book does very well, is show the difference between sex and love, and the writing makes one want to follow the story all the way to the end.
There are some flaws though, some of which may be due to the translation. For one thing, the absence of drugs seems to be unrealistic, but perhaps that was the correct decision, because in this story sex is the drug that is being used. Another oddity that distracted me was how the narrative shifted from Maria's point-of-view to another character's for brief periods. Overall, these problems are small though, and this book is very interesting to read.
on December 19, 2006
...by the collected works of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. He seems to have hit a certain note in his writings that promises to ring true forevermore. His is not a linear style, folks. ELEVEN MINUTES: A NOVEL is not a formulaic novel of "first this happens, then that happens, then something else happens." You can jump into any part of this story and basically live life at its finest. Life at its most complex and inscrutable and pleasurable--the pleasure within the deep pain, do you know what I'm talking about? Coelho writes his meandering tale as the game of life itself generally occurs: it has twists, stops, starts, and all sorts of gaps in between. Things don't stop when they're supposed to stop. Things don't start where they're supposed to start. And matters also don't proceed according to plan. Rarely will you notice that what is supposed to happen, happens. Here's a good analogy: think of how your mind works at the best of times, how it assaults you with mile-a-minute calculations and considerations. Imagine how you run your typical day, and the process via which you go about making decisions.
It's never a straightforward process, is it?
One moment you can be lolling in the doldrums, without a clue, then something can smack you in the face and make you wonder just how deeply you'd managed to slip into that funk of yours, feeling sorry for yourself, imagining where you can take the first exit to Check-Out-of-Life Land, buying yourself a one-way express train ticket to hell...then you suddenly realize it was all a Grand Test, papito. That there was more to it, and the Great One, Whomever It May Be For You, was merely pressing your corporeal buttons, wanting to see how much you can take. To basically see what you're made of. To see if you can walk the walk as well as you tell your friends how godfearing and believing of a person you really are.
There were some of the thoughts that were racing through my mind, Indy500-style, as I blew through page after excellently-translated (from the Portuguese) page of Coelho's latest installment.
Coelho's example in life further indicates to me that some of the best scribes and novellists on this planet are the ones who have stared the face of Hell dead in the eyes, and have lived to tell the tale. The ones who have managed to face down their most dastardly demons, and who have the scars, the tattoos, the breast implants, the Botox, the piercings, and the expensive quick-fixes to show it. Not to mention the thousand and one lovers (paid or otherwise). The ones who have dared to "go there," against all the odds and conventional wisdom...who'd one day decided to cast their lot in with the Fates, not caring for that one very moment whether or not they lived or died or say the next bowl of weeties in the morning.
Because it's there, on the cusp of such indecision, where the fruits of the vine can be deliciously picked. It's there, where you can feel the gusts of hot backwind gushing up from the abyss, drawing you downward with their complex convenction currents, that you--so mortal and so very afraid--are unable to resist its powerful yank, Frank.
Know this, my dear readers...some of the best (and therefore the most successful people, from a lifestyle standpoint, which also generally equates to the "game of life" standpoint) in the world are the one who've faced down such adversity. I'm not surprised that someone like Maria was able to overcome her fears, and overcome her provincial inner-jungle background to achieve the very best of what there was in life in a land where people from the outside are shunned with as much love as a bout of the stomach flu. I believe this is also the dream of many city dwellers, those who were born and raised in large metropolises, to be able to come to the aid of their families...it's a romantic notion indeed. I salute people like Maria.
In fact, the best experience is the one you engage in and create all by yourself, not the one which is handed down to you third-hand. Those are the people we drool over, the ones who populate the pages of some of our best novels, the ones who form the bases of our most memorable fictional characters, the ones who cause films and books to climb to the tops of the bestseller charts.
But where do these people come from? I say to you, friends, that they breathe and live. They TRULY exist.
Rolf is also quite true to form. In our age of rapid advancement, with cheaper airfares, plentiful business opportunities to deceive and be deceived, massive advances in technology which continue to set us apart from one another, the fact that someone can become burned out with life at such an early age (in their 30s) is really possible. Godhonest. That Rolf is looking out for something totally different, and that he finds his passion and solace in Maria...someone so lambasted by the mainstream and the System...we shouldn't be in the least bit alarmed. Artists go looking for their daily inspiration (which for them is their daily bread) in all the so-called darkly mysterious places. They go digging into the muck to pull out the pearls, and sometimes the muck is more than six-feet deep, the metaphor being a significant one, Jack.
I'm sure any one of us who have enjoyed this particular novel have met more than our fair share of Rolfs over this lifetime, have we not? If you haven't, then it's coming, toots. When you meet your potential Rolf, please don't judge him too harshly...
In all--and as I haven't read the other reviews on this site, though I'm sure they're all, for the most part, complimentary to the author (and rightfully so)--I'd have to say that each and every one of us is going to derive something different from our reads. We're going to zero in on the thing which pulled most stridently at our heartstrings, and overemphasize, perhaps, that which others might find somewhat trivial. I can give you examples, but you've got other books to read, have you not?
There's enough inside the pages of this book to tease and tickle almost any human...regardless of gender, regardless of nationality.
Coelho does it again, and in this way I feel that he's truly gifted with something that he was born to do. It's such a sweet sensation reading a piece of literature which rolls off the fingertips of the greats.
I can't wait for his next cut.
Hand on the heart,
ADM from Prague
on December 1, 2006
Having read Coelho's "The Alchemist" and now "Eleven Minutes," I have two words to describe his work: trite and beautiful. "Eleven Minutes" (which refers to the average duration of the sexual act) reads like the Julia Roberts movie spin-off, now transferred to exotic locations (Brazil and Geneva). This script's star is Maria, a naive Brazilian secretary, who seeks adventure, money and a husband but ends up a prostitute in a Geneva men's club. For the most part, Maria's forays into paid sex sound more like dating in any large city. Of course she just "falls" into the scene when she signs up to be a model and earns a pretty sum sleeping with a potential employer. Figuring out this is an easy way to make money, Maria ditches her regular job and becomes a lady of the night. We only hear of her adventures with two young, rich, good looking clients, one of whom opens up her world in a sexual way, and the other (also rich, echoes of the Pretty Woman movie here) she falls in love with. Hate to be a spoiler, but this isn't the whole story. It's really about Coelho and his sympathetic view of prostitutes as just regular women (aren't most of us after adventure, money and love) or, more cynically perhaps, we are all just whores. As a novel, it is better written than many on the shelf; fast paced and easy to read, it doesn't eat up all your time. Unlike Pretty Woman, Maria never gets roughed up, nor is she prey to the drugs, abuse and exploitation of most of her skin trade sisters. Although a titillating post-modern fairy tale about the oldest profession, Coelho's fantasies might better have been kept to himself.