Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Winner Stands Alone but with Angels for Company

Many of my friends do not like reading Paulo Coelho. Whenever I mention his work they tell me, “Look, his masterpiece is The Alchemist. Rest is the repetition of the same.”

Some other friends say, “May be for the Western audience the kind of spirituality he writes about must be appealing. But as Indians we know the spiritual search that he is talking about.”

Another set of friends just smile. I know the meaning of that smile. “Oh, you still read Paulo Coelho, the bestseller type.”

All of them say one thing for sure: Paulo Coelho says the same thing in different ways.

May be that is the reason I like reading him- he says the same thing in hundred different ways.

I remember Bruce Lee, the martial artist and superstar. He says in his biography, “I like the martial artist who can perform the same punch in hundred different ways than the one who can perform hundred different punches in the same way.”

Paulo Coelho belongs to the former category. His single punch is this: The human being in his never ending quest for power, fame and glory, has lost his soul. One needs to search for it. And perhaps, everyone is in a path of this spiritual search.

I have read most of Coelho’s works and each time I find something new. I realize that the same story of different people rendered in different ways could show you a new path, a new experience, a new and unexpected vision.

Hence, reading his latest novel ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ was a pleasure for me. Unlike his other works (mostly set in a particular period in ancient or modern history), this one is a ‘contemporary’ novel. By contemporary I mean the fading baggage of history.

The only historical reference to it is the Afghan War waged by the Russian Army. That too comes as a part of the protagonist’s psychological make up. Otherwise it happens in one day, precisely on 19th March 2008.

Don’t look for the exactitude of the incident narrated in this book. It starts on 3.15 am in Cannes, France. The setting is Cannes International Film Festival. Simultaneously, international fashion shows are also on.

Igor, the protagonist, owner of a huge telecom company in Russia arrives in Cannes in his private aircraft. He is here to ‘destroy worlds’ for retrieving his lost love. His wife Ewe had deserted him two years back in order to live with one of the fashion moguls, Hamid Hussein.

Igor believes that by killing a person, he could destroy one ‘world’, which would send messages to his former wife who is present in Cannes along with her new husband. Igor believes that he saves a life by destroying a world.

It is a thriller, with sex, lies and of course video tapes and surveillance. Igor befriends a young peddler, Olivia. He kills her after knowing that her life is not going anywhere with her abusive boyfriend. Then he kills Javitz, a film distributor. Then he kills Maureen, an aspiring film maker. Then, the lot falls on a famous film actor.

Each murder, Igor carries out meticulously without leaving any trace of suspicion. The Cannes Police spend hours to nab the serial killer but in vain.

Igor does not select his victims though he plans the method of killing flawlessly. The victims come to him by chance or by choice. He feels that he saves them and he identifies himself with Jesus Christ with a mission to save the world from people who are suffering out of love; everything done for getting back his love, Ewa.

However, people and incidents are connected by providence. Maureen was almost sure of getting her film funded by Javitz. Gabriella, a twenty five year old woman was about to become a superstar as she was signed by a director to act against the murdered superstar. She enjoys her moment of glory by walking upto the steps of Cannes Palace. She never realizes that her world is already collapsed. Jasmine is about to become a supermodel. But the man who is supposed to produce the movie for Gabriella and make Jasmine a supermodel, Hamid Hussein is already fallen a victim to Igor. Finally Igor kills Ewe also.

The police never get a clue about the serial murderer. He leaves Cannes safely in his private aircraft.

What we get from this novel is a cross section of the world of fashion and films, its undercurrents, money laundering, pains of the models, futility of power, glory and fame. Each person is a lost person in this novel and they are searching for their souls. Ironically, before they meet their soul, they lose the vision of it. Either they are taken away by circumstances or are killed by someone who is pathologically inclined to cleanse the world of its loveless-ness.

Paulo Coelho’s works are always page turners, so is this one. Each character in this novel reveals a new world for us and soon we realize that the world thus revealed is not new any longer as we too take a share of it on a day to day basis as consumers of popular culture. Our souls are lost in our culture and the point is that we are aware of the slow erosion of our worlds from under our feet.

Paulo Coelho just points this out through an extremely thrilling narrative structure which spreads out before us in twenty four hours.

You can hate Paulo Coelho for him being a popular writer. But for me popularity does not indicate the lack of verve, intelligence and grip in narrative. Perhaps, you don’t read him twice. But you definitely read him once, whenever he comes up with a new book.


Anonymous said...

I would read Coelho several times. And I also adored the WSA

JohnyML said...

thanks paulo for commenting

shraddha said...

i agree with u,
most people say alchemist is the best 1 and i feel the same some times but i love the Zahir.