I believe the best and most successful approach to forming my worldview is reading novels from various time periods, authors, and literary directions. Thus, I decided to read my first book by Paulo Coelho, one of the most famous contemporary authors. To be honest, I was a little bit sceptic due to the popular belief that models (not meaning to be offensive here, but you know what I mean) always claim his works to be their favorite. Thus, I expected something trivial, shallow, easy to understand, and without prominent virtues.
I was both right and wrong. His novels are indeed easy to understand as the language is clear and accessible. However, they are not trivial or shallow and they raise several important issues of society in the 21st century.
Paulo Coelho was born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the family of an engineer and a fervent Catholic. His parents do not accept his rebellious spirit and liberal mind and send him three times to a mental institution, where he undergoes different therapies, including electroshock. His career starts with songs, poetry, and articles preaching freedom, free will, and free thinking. The Brazilian dictatorship sees a threat in his face and he is arrested in 1974. The Alchemist, published in 1988, is the best selling book in Portuguese. His novels are translated in 68 languages and sold in 150 countries. He wins the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Veronica Decides to Die and in 2007 he is chosen by the UN as a messenger of peace.
In The Winner Stands Alone Paulo Coelho condemns the destructive desire for glory, power, success, and recognition in contemporary society. He portrays the world of movie stars, models, famous producers and designers, where on the outside everything seems glamorous, easy, and carefree. On the inside actually these people are scared, insecure, depressed, and lonely.
Three of the four main characters that Coelho describes fall in this subtle trap. Igor, a Russian multimillionaire and an owner of a telecommunications company believes killing innocent people to be his high purpose – to save them from earthy pain and suffering and to win back his ex-wife. Hamid, a famous designer, begins his career in order to glorify his Arabic culture and traditions but finds himself a victim of a system, which uses his talent. Gabriela is convinced that glory is the most important and satisfying prize and strives to be a famous actress.
I liked Coelho’s novel because it describes a world of hedonists and consumers, where most people believe power, money, and glory to be the highest virtues. Contemporary society has forgotten to search for inner beauty; it is now obsessed with outer appearance – botox, plastic surgery, and a perfect body are more important than a perfect soul. Ordinary people look up to the world of the Superclass with envy, ready to sacrifice their families, their self-respect, and their pride to become part of it. The Winner Stands Alone is a tough portrait of contemporary society, driven by desire for glory, power, and success. At the end, however, these people become victims of their subversive vanity, of their obsession with luxury and acknowledgement. At the end, all of them are unhappy, lonely, and depressed. At the end, all of them search for a salvation in sex, drugs, and alcohol. The reason being contemporary society has abandoned the virtues that really matter – love, compassion, and friendship.