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Understanding love by being a prostitute: Paulo Coelho — Eleven minutes

Understanding love by being a prostitute: Paulo Coelho — Eleven minutes

Published Mar 8, 2024 Updated Mar 8, 2024 Culture
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Understanding love by being a prostitute: Paulo Coelho — Eleven minutes


On this March 8, Women’s Day, I’m going to tell you the story of a Brazilian prostitute. This profession, which can be seen in a negative light, is highlighted in Paulo Coelho’s novel Eleven Minutes, published in 2003 by the Portuguese publishing house Rocco.

Where one might imagine the life of a prostitute to be that of a suffering victim, of society’s rejection, Paulo Coelho shows us the character of a thoughtful woman, Maria, who learns from her experience in the dark underworld of sex to grow, evolves, discover herself and explore her sexuality.

The novel tells the story in 3rd person but is interspersed with first-person excerpts from Maria’s diary, giving us a glimpse of her subjective, emotional view of events.

I have a choice: I can be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of her treasure. The question is how I look at my life.

Maria lets herself go and is open to new experiences. She seizes every opportunity, whether it seems bad or not. Without judgment, and seeing the profession of prostitute as any other job used to earn money, she doesn’t question herself. She undertakes a short career in this field without hesitation, without even questioning the pejorative aspects of the profession.


She sees sex at work as one thing, and love, sexuality with a loved one, as something else entirely. From an outsider’s point of view, Maria is going through a difficult time, but her experience is described and perceived by herself in a different way that makes us think about what life’s trials are all about. We can see hardships as painful, as challenges to be overcome, and this will seem arduous, long, and painful. Or we can accept life’s events and simply get through them peacefully to make the best of them.

Once upon a time, there was…

There was a prostitute called Maria. Such is the beginning of the book. Mixing a fairy tale with something as taboo as prostitution, Paulo Coelho has us on the edge of our seats from the outset, because the novel is in a way a modern fairy tale about a profession on the bangs that has always existed. It’s about sex but in a poetic way.

In the course of her adventures, Maria learns to make love in many ways that have nothing to do with sex properly, whether through looks or sensations. Having become disillusioned with love as a result of her previous experiences, it is by immersing herself in the intricacies of passionless sex that she comes to understand what the opposite is: love.

All my life, I’ve understood love as a kind of consensual slavery. That’s a lie: freedom only exists when love is there. Those who give themselves totally, who feel free, love infinitely.

This is the true experience of freedom: to have the most important thing in the world, without possessing it.

Criticism of sex education

Throughout the story, Coelho takes the opportunity to make a few hidden social criticisms. Fortunately, in our time, things have changed, but people of my generation (thirty-somethings) and those before have indeed lacked sex education, and we’re talking about the West here. It’s a different story in other countries, where sexuality is even more taboo.

When she gets her first period, Maria tries to get more explanations on the subject from her mother. As if it were the normal thing to do, the book shares the mother’s response.

Maria wanted to know what relationship there was between being a young woman and the blood between her legs, but her mother was unable to explain. All she could say was that it was normal, and from then on she’d have to wear a towel no bigger than a doll’s bolster four or five days a month.

Let’s not even talk about masturbation. It’s child abuse, but it’s recited as part of everyday life and completely normal.

She’d made a habit of it (masturbation) as a child and found great pleasure in it — until the day her father surprised her and gave her a swift kick, without further explanation.

It’s disturbing to think that even today, in some countries, things really are like this when a young girl questions her period or masturbation.

A critique of societal values and misogyny in certain cultures is also addressed.

All she (her mother) cared about was whether her daughter was happy and rich — or unhappy and rich. “My darling, it is better to be unhappy with a rich man than happy with a poor one.

As if only money mattered at the expense of happiness.

Not only are Paulo Coelho’s books known to be spiritual, but I believe that if you look at the details, you can see many other messages.

Meaning of life — No Regrets

Up until that moment, travel, the idea of going to the other side of the world, all this had been just a dream to Maria — and dreaming is very comfortable when we don’t have to realize what we’ve planned. So we go through difficult times, we experience risks and frustrations and, once we’re old, we can always blame others — our parents, preferably, or our spouses, our children — for not having fulfilled our desires.

This is what motivates Maria to keep going, to make these risky choices, but because she wants to. She’s motivated by the unexpected and doesn’t want to have any regrets when the time comes, so she tries things and moves forward, even if it’s in the wrong direction. At least, she’s moving forward.

Maria’s Clients

Although prostitutes’ clients could be described as vicious and not engaging in much empathy, the novel highlights the overall problem of sexuality and love that is missing in our societies.

These men only do what they’ve been taught — sex is about coming to impress your partner, without really caring about her real pleasure. They’re bored with their lives and see sex only as entertainment, a source of relaxation. Go for a drink with colleagues, play a game of soccer, or go empty their balls into a prostitute — it’s all the same, an activity to take their mind off their dull everyday life.

It’s not widely known, but it seems that some men go to prostitutes not for sex, but rather just to chat, to be listened to, and to be in good company. Maria realizes how sullen her customers are, despite their status as wealthy white men with access to seemingly everything they want to be happy.

Paulo, you make us think!

To read Paulo Coelho’s work is to be entertained and philosophically challenged at the same time. His literary style and accessible vocabulary make these reflections accessible to everyone. I devoured this book in just three days and will be binding it and sharing it with my friends and family, whose kind of book it is.

As I’m learning Portuguese, I’d also like one day to read Paulo Coelho’s books in their original language, to discover new subtleties in his writing.

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