The best bits of Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is no doubt Paulo Coelho’s best work in English. However, there is something about Eleven Minutes that stays with you long after you have finished reading it. When I first read it, there were several sections that were so deep that I would pause reading at the end of the page and let it all sink in. However, there is one small thing that makes the book a little less perfect to me. I’m not a fan of happy endings in fiction, they are just too far off from reality. Also, my mum once told me that the love left incomplete is the sweetest… Eleven Minutes ends with Ralf meeting Maria in Paris airport with roses and quoting his favourite line from Casablanca. Now that, I feel, is too fairytale like for such a perfect book. But again, Maria had had her fair share of sufferings so probably a little bit of fairytale was due in her life. However, I feel that some amount of longing across continents would be better before they would come to the realisation that they are meant to be together.
Below are the lines that earned Eleven Minutes a spot on my list of favourite books of all times:
Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria. Wait a minute. ‘Once upon a time’ is how all the best children’s stories begin and ‘prostitute’ is a word for adults. How can I start a book with this apparent contradiction? But since, at every moment of our lives, we all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss, let’s keep that beginning. Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria.
- At that moment Maria learnt that certain things are lost forever. She learned too that there was a place allied ‘somewhere far away’, that the world was vast and her own town small, and that, in the end, the most interesting people always leave.
- She also noticed that, as had happened with the first boy, she associated love more with the person’s absence than with their presence.
- When we meet someone and fall in love, we have a sense that the whole universe is on our side. I saw this happen today as the sun went down. and yet if something goes wrong, there is nothing left. How is it possible for the beauty that was there only minutes before to vanish so quickly? Life moves very fast. It rushes from heaven to hell in a matter of seconds.
- From Maria’s diary, when she was seventeen: My aim is to understand love. I know how alive I felt when I was in love, and I know that everything I have now, however interesting it might seem, doesn’t really excite me. But love is a terrible thing: I’ve seen my girlfriends suffer and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me. They used to laugh at me and my innocence, but now they ask me how it is I manage men so well. I smile and say nothing, because I know that the remedy is worse than the pain: I simply don’t fall in love. Although my aim is to understand love, and although I suffer to think of the people to whom I gave my heart, I see that those who touched my heart failed to arouse my body, and that those who aroused my body failed to touch my heart.
- The power of beauty: what must the world be like for ugly women? She had some girlfriends who no one ever invited at parties or who men were never interested in. Incredible though it might seem, these girls placed far greater value on the little love they received, suffered in immensely when they were rejected and tried to face the future looking for other things beyond getting all dressed up for someone else. They were more independent, took more interest in themselves, although, in Maria’s imagination, the world for them must seem unbearable.
- Everything tells me that I am about to make a wrong decision, but making mistakes is just part of life. What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back where I came from because I didn’t have the courage to say ‘yes’ to life? I made my first mistake when I was eleven years old, when that boy asked me if I could lend him a pencil; since then, I’ve realised that sometimes you get no second chance and that it’s best to accept the gifts the world offers you. Of course it’s risky, but is the risk any greater than the chance of the bus that took forty-eight hours to bring me here having an accident?
- If I’m looking for true love, I first have to get the mediocre loves out of my system.
- Up until then, travel and the idea of going far away had just been a dream, and dreaming is very pleasant as long as you are not forced to put your dreams into practice. That way, we avoid all the risks, frustrations and difficulties, and when we are old, we can always blame other people preferably our parents, our spouses or our children – for our failure to realise our dreams.
- With a smile here and a smile there, she was beginning to understand that this was all in the documents she had signed and that, when it came to seductions, feelings and contracts, one should never play around.
- I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It’s all a question of how I view my life.
- At the moment, I’m far too lonely to think about love, but I have to believe that it will happen, that I will find a job and that I am here because I chose this fate. The roller coaster is my life; life is a fast, dizzying game; life is a parachute jump; it’s taking chances, falling over and getting up again; it’s mountaineering; it’s wanting to get to the very top of yourself and to feel angry and dissatisfied when you don’t manage it. It isn’t easy being far from my family and from the language in which I can express all my feelings and emotions, but, from now on, whenever I feel depressed, I will remember that funfair. If I had fallen asleep and suddenly woken up on a roller coaster, what would I feel? Well, I would feel trapped and sick, terrified of every bend, wanting to get off. However, if I believe that the track is my destiny and that God is in charge of the machine, then the nightmare becomes something thrilling. It becomes exactly what it is, a roller coaster, a safe, reliable toy, which will eventually stop, but, while the journey lasts, I must look at the surrounding landscape and whoop with excitement.
- That’s what the world is like: people talk as if they knew everything, but if you dare to ask a question, they don’t know anything ? Whenever I try to appear more intelligent than I am, I always lose out.
- From Maria’s diary a week later: I’m not a body with a soul, I’m a soul that has a visible part called the body.
- It’s really only forty-five minutes, and if you allow time for taking off clothes, making some phoney gesture of affection, having a bit of banal conversation and getting dressed again, the amount of time spent actually having sex is about eleven minutes. The world revolved around something that only took eleven minutes. And because of those eleven minutes in any one twenty four-hour day (assuming that they all made love to their wives every day, which is patently absurd and a complete lie) they got married, supported a family, put up with screaming kids, thought up ridiculous excuses to justify getting home late, ogled dozens, if not hundreds of other women with whom they would like to go for a walk around Lake Geneva, bought expensive clothes for themselves and even more expensive clothes for their wives, paid prostitutes to try to give them what they were missing, and thus sustained a vast industry of cosmetics, diet foods, exercise, pornography and power, and yet when they got together with other men, contrary to popular belief, they never talked about women. They talked about jobs, money and sports. Something was very wrong with civilisation, and it wasn’t the destruction of the Amazon rainforest or the ozone layer, the death of the panda, cigarettes, carcinogenic foodstuffs or prison conditions, as the newspapers would have it. It was precisely the thing she was working with : sex.
- All my life, I thought of love as some kind of voluntary enslavement. Well, that’s a lie: freedom only exists when love is present. The person who gives him or herself wholly, the person who feels freest, is the person who loves most wholeheartedly. And the person who loves wholeheartedly feels free. In love, no one can harm anyone else; we are each of us responsible for our own feelings and cannot blame someone else for what we feel. It hurt when I lost each of the various men I fell in love with. Now, though, I am convinced that no one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it.
- Today, while we were walking around the lake, along that strange road to Santiago, the man who was with me – a painter, with a life entirely different from mine – threw a pebble into the water. Small circles appeared where the pebble fell, which grew and grew until they touched a duck that happened to be passing and which had nothing to do with the pebble. Instead of being afraid of that unexpected wave, he decided to play with it. Some hours before that scene, I went into a cafe, heard a voice, and it was as if God had thrown a pebble into that place. The waves of energy touched both me and a man sitting in a corner painting a portrait. He felt the vibrations of that pebble, and so did I. So what now? The painter knows when he has found a model. The musician knows when his instrument is well tuned. Here, in my diary, I am aware that there are certain phrases which are not written by me, but by a woman full of ‘light’-, I am that woman though I refuse to accept it. I could carry on like this, but I could also, like the duck on the lake, have fun and take pleasure in that sudden ripple that set the water rocking. There is a name for that pebble: passion. It can be used to describe the beauty of an earthshaking meeting between two people, but it isn’t just that. It’s there in the excitement of the unexpected, in the desire to do something with real fervour, in the certainty that one is going to realise a dream. Passion sends us signals that guide us through our lives, and it’s up to me to interpret those signs.
- If I have already lost him, I will at least have gained one very happy day in my life. Considering the way the world is, one happy day is almost a miracle.
- He’s an artist. He should know that the great aim of every human being is to understand the meaning of total love. Love is not to be found in someone else, but in ourselves; we simply awaken it. But in order to do that, we need the other person. The universe only makes sense when we have someone to share our feelings with.
- 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.
- 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 marvellous 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 have a lot of pristine train sets in my life too,’ said Maria, after a while. ‘One of them is my heart. And I only played with it when the world set out the tracks, and then it wasn’t always the right moment.’ ‘But you loved.’ ‘Oh, yes, I loved, I loved very deeply. I loved so deeply that when my love asked me for a gift, I took fright and fled.’ ‘I don’t understand.’ ‘You don’t have to. I’m teaching you because I’ve discovered something I didn’t know before: The giving of gifts. Giving something of one’s own. Giving something important rather than asking. You have my treasure: the pen with which I wrote down some of my dreams. I have your treasure: the carriage of a train, part of your childhood that you did not live. ‘I carry with me part of your past, and you carry with you a little of my present. Isn’t that lovely?’
- People wanted to think like that because they thought sex was everyone else’s sole concern. They went on diets, wore wigs, spent hours at the hairdresser’s or at the gym, put on sexy clothes, all in an attempt to awaken the necessary spark. And what happened? When the moment came to go to bed with someone, eleven minutes later it was all over. There was no creativity involved, nothing that would lift them up to paradise; the fire provoked by the spark soon burned out.
- I’ve met a man and fallen in love with him. I allowed myself to fall in love for one simple reason: I’m not expecting anything to come of it. I know that, in three months’ time, I’ll be far away and he’ll be just a memory, but I couldn’t stand living without love any longer; I had reached my limit.
- I’m writing a story for Ralf Hart – that’s his name. I’m not sure he’ll come back to the club where I work, but, for the first time in my life, that doesn’t matter. It’s enough just to love him, to be with him in my thoughts and to colour this lovely city with his steps, his words, his love. When I leave this country, it will have a face and a name and the memory of a fireplace. Everything else I experienced here, all the difficulties I had to overcome, will be as nothing compared to that memory.
- 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. These meetings are waiting for us, but more often than not, we avoid them happening. If we are desperate, though, if we have nothing to lose, or if we are full of enthusiasm for life, then the unknown reveals itself, and our universe changes direction.
- Everyone knows how to love, because we are all born with that gift. Some people have a natural talent for it, but the majority of us have to re-learn, to remember how to love, and everyone, without exception, needs to burn on the bonfire of past emotions, to relive certain joys and griefs, certain ups and downs, until they can see the connecting thread that exists behind each new encounter; because there is a connecting thread. And then, our bodies learn to speak the language.
- Sometimes life is very mean: a person can spend days, weeks, months and years without feeling anything new. Then, when a door opens – as happened with Maria when she met Ralf Hart – a positive avalanche pours in. One moment, you have nothing, the next, you have more than you can cope with.
- The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.
- Life is too short, or too long, for me to allot myself the luxury of living it so badly
- Of course, everyone spoke ill of her profession, but, basically, it was all a question of selling her time, like everyone else. Doing things she didn’t want to do, like everyone else. Putting up with horrible people, like everyone else. Handing over her precious body and her precious soul in the name of a future that never arrived, like everyone else. Saying that she still didn’t have enough, like everyone else. Waiting just a little bit longer, like everyone else.
- Yes, I love you very much, as I have never loved another man, and that is precisely why I am leaving, because, if I stayed, the dream would become reality, the desire to possess, to want your life to be mine … in short, all the things that transform love into slavery. It’s best left like this – a dream. We have to be careful what we take from a country, or from life.
- ‘What made you fall in love with a prostitute?’ I didn’t understand it myself at the time. But I’ve thought about it since, and I think it was because, knowing that your body would never be mine alone, I had to concentrate on conquering your soul.
- ‘Weren’t you jealous?’ ‘You can’t say to the spring: “Come now and last as long as possible.” You can only say: “Come and bless me with your hope, and stay as long as you can.”‘
- She got to the airport, drank another cup of coffee and waited four hours for her flight to Paris, thinking all the time that he would arrive at any moment, because at some point before they fell asleep, she had told him the time of her flight. That’s how it always happened in films: at the last moment, when the woman is just about to board the plane, the man races up to her, puts his arms around her and kisses her, and brings her back to his world, beneath the smiling, indulgent gaze of the flight staff. The words ‘The End’ appear on the screen, and the audience knows that, from then on, they will live happily ever after. ‘Films never tell you what happens next,’ she thought, trying to console herself. Marriage, cooking, children, ever more infrequent sex, the discovery of the first note from his mistress, the decision to confront him, his promise that it will never happen again, the second note from another mistress, another confrontation and this time a threat to leave him, this time the man reacts less vehemently and merely tells her that he loves her. The third note from a third mistress, and the decision to say nothing, to pretend that she knows nothing, because he might tell her that he doesn’t love her any more and that she’s free to leave. No, films never show that. They finish before the real world begins.
- One day, someone should decide to tell her story, she would ask them to begin it just as all the fairy tales begin: Once upon a time…