Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes

As I write this review on Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes, I’m sitting in the lounge area of a hostel in Munich, Germany. I am more than half-way through my 2021 tour of Europe, and I had hoped to write more reviews while here. The planned writing has not happened as I expected it to, but that’s okay because it’s given me a fresh perspective on a few things. Interestingly, the setting of Coelho’s Eleven Minutes is in Switzerland. This novel is infamous or famous, depending on your perspective, for its subject matter. The protagonist, Maria, is a young Brazilian woman that finds herself in Switzerland working as a prostitute. Oddly though, I think the core of the book is really about the spectrum of connection between money and sex in relations between men and women.

Passion makes a person stop eating, sleeping, working, feeling at peace. A lot of people are frightened because, when it appears, it demolishes all the old things it finds in its path. No one wants their life thrown into chaos. That is why a lot of people keep that threat under control, and are somehow capable of sustaining a house or a structure that is already rotten. They are the engineers of the superseded. Other people think exactly the opposite: they surrender themselves without a second thought, hoping to find in passion the solutions to all their problems. They make the other person responsible for their happiness and blame them for their possible unhappiness. They are either euphoric because something marvelous has happened or depressed because something unexpected has just ruined everything. Keeping passion at bay or surrendering blindly to it – which of these two attitudes is the least destructive? I don’t know.

Maria, a young Brazilian girl, is hired by a Swiss club owner to work at a nightclub. She travels to Switzerland after arranging for a work visa and begins to work, but she has a disagreement with management and quits. Then, she finds herself unemployed. After taking money from an Arab to spend the night with him, the unexpected profession seems to temporarily suit Maria. She seems to enjoy the liberty it affords her in terms of time. And, her diary leads readers through how she reconciles sex with accepting money for it. Oddly enough, it was kind of therapeutic to read her thoughts on the subject matter.

I am two women: one wants to have all the joy, passion and adventure that life can give me. The other wants to be a slave to routine, to family life, to the things that can be planned and achieved. I’m a housewife and a prostitute, both of us living in the same body and doing battle with each other.

How in the world was this even therapeutic? It’s a very interesting and unique take on the realities of relationships between couples, not even just men and women, even fleeting and temporary couples. Relationships, in their reality and in practice, rather than just fantasy or imagination, are transactional things. There is an exchange of energy, time, money, resources, etc. The novel points this out admirably. One final interesting note about this book, it does touch on the subject of kink or alternative sexual preferences and how prostitutes approach the issue. Since Paulo Coelho is a man, I always do wonder if a woman writing a similar novel would offer a different or unique perspective. I’ve very much in the Hélène Cixous group of thinkers that women/female should write women/female. Anyway, that’s the direction in which the book led my train of thought.

Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other. Generally speaking, these meetings occur when we reach a limit, when we need to die and be reborn emotionally. 

The quote “Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other” is so beautifully and romantically Coelho, but there is also somethings really Romantic with a capital R alla Jane Austin and Charlotte Brontë. I have to give it to Coelho, controversial subject handled well and good prose makes for a great book. Of course, Maria falls in love. She meets a painter named Ralf, but it’s not going to work out for them. I may re-read this book because I forget the ending, but I am rather sure she ends up back in Brazil. Anyway, if you want a book to read that deals with a tricky subject elegantly, this one is for you.

Works Cited

“Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho.” Goodreads, Goodreads,

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