Eleven Minutes struck me as a title and the excitement increased manifold when I noticed the author’s name – Paulo Coelho.
I had heard this name many times before, but never had the opportunity to read his books, so I picked it up instantly. The author’s preface made it clear that this book is slightly different from his previous works and is going to change his reputation among his cult admirers of the Alchemist. However, it was my first book by Paulo and I felt lucky to read it without any preconceived notions about the writer’s style or genre.
Eleven Minutes is a gripping tale of a young girl, who gets involved in the flesh trade, voluntarily to make quick money and to fulfill her own and her family’s long-cherished dreams. However, as the story progresses, the purity of the girl’s nature comes as a pleasant surprise. Despite being a part of one of the most ancient and yet the dirtiest job, she possesses a unique virginity, with a holier than thou heart, the impurity of her body never affecting her mind, her soul.
The solidity of her character rubs onto you, you empathize with her , wish her luck in her sojourns and genuinely want her to be united with her true love. She gathers your sympathy, surprises you with her die-hard optimism, and amazes you with her ability to make things work despite all odds. The sincerity and professionalism with which she handles her trade, never even once makes prostitution look degrading or humiliating. The story reinforces the belief that no job is small or dirty, its our own consciousness that makes it look so.
Paulo totally impressed me with his unbiased characterization of one of the most complex characters- highlighting the womanly qualities of a prostitute who is more often than not treated as a mere body, a tool to satiate carnal desires, without any regard for her existence as a girl. Her feminine side which cherishes thoughts of having a life partner, craving for someone special with whom she is able to share her moments of joy and grief, her dreams and fantasies and be free in her thoughts and action is often neglected.
Paulo Coelho has definitely treated the character of his novel in a most wonderful manner. Without any bias, he has tried to create a real woman. And, I must say, he has succeeded in his mission. The Eleven Minutes of her trade related activity nowhere blemishes her character and she comes across as a strong independent woman, craving for love inside and putting up a brave face to the world. She may be called Westernized version of Umrao Jaan, without excessive melodrama about her victimization.