Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And now we turn to Devils ...

And by Devils, I mean the evil inside of us, according to Paulo Coelho in The Devil and Miss Prym.


A community devoured by greed, cowardice, and fear. A man persecuted by the ghosts of his painful past. A young woman searching for happiness. In one eventful week, each will face questions of life, death, and power, and each will choose a path. Will they choose good or evil?

In the remote village of Viscos -- a village too small to be on any map, a place where time seems to stand still -- a stranger arrives, carrying with him a backpack containing a notebook and eleven gold bars. He comes searching for the answer to a question that torments him: Are human beings, in essence, good or evil? In welcoming the mysterious foreigner, the whole village becomes an accomplice to his sophisticated plot, which will forever mark their lives.

Paulo Coelho's stunning novel explores the timeless struggle between good and evil, and brings to our everyday dilemmas fresh perspective: incentive to master the fear that prevents us from following our dreams, from being different, from truly living.

The Devil and Miss Prym is a story charged with emotion, in which the integrity of being human meets a terrifying test.

I am a huge fan of Paulo Coelho. I am not sure if it's because he writes in Portuguese (translated in a bazillion languages of course!) Or because I know I can count on ending that will leave me hopeful (Yeah, that actually might be it), but I get super excited when I see his name on the bookshelves at the local store.

This one is not a disappointment.

This book is basically a study of the good and evil that presumably reside in all of us, when there exists a seemingly overwhelming temptation.

You know the phrase, "The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions"? Well, this books takes that and unmasks it for what it is: an excuse.

You know you're doing wrong when you're doing wrong, and rarely is there a time when the little voice in your head fails you. So the real question is: How far will we go when we know we'll get away with it?

This is the question put to the Villagers who are offered a large amount of money, in exchange for the murder of a member among them. There are really four parallel stories that converge in this book: there is that of the Stranger and his moral question - do the events of his past, so terrible that they were, give him the right to exercise this type of power?; there is Miss Prym, the one looking for love and happiness, whose moral dilemma is whether to follow her own dreams or save the village that neither nurtured or prepared her for the world; The Villagers themselves - whether they can, as a group, kill one among them in order to "save" the village?; and Berta, the aged widow who watches the world pass from her porch, who has to come to terms with her fragile place in society.

The way these stories come together and entwine is what makes Paulo Coelho one of those masters of literature - he infuses such meaning into every action, that you cannot miss the undertones of the whole book. Which is good, since it makes you think upon what the answer would be - are people good or evil? The question isn't answered in the book - the play of angels and devils is the stand-in for the fight between a person's own moral compass, and the play between the two - the justifications and acknowledgments for and against evil are what make this book so rich.

In the end you are left with more questions then answers, but you are also left with a peculiar set of stories and experiences that may bear some mentioning in your next discussion about the basic nature of humanity.

My particular favourite, and it is a running theme in Coelho's books, is his own version of Christianity - it seems almost a blend of a few distinct religions that come together to make something much more wonderful then what any of them were on their own. He uses stories we could be familiar with - of saints and sinners, lone wolves and people with blurred faces, and uses them in such a way that they stick in our heads. He is a master of his trade.

I highly recommend this book - it is a complex study and a generally heavy read, but it goes by quickly - you'll want to get to the end, you'll want to see if the villagers have justified their own greed and killed Berta. You'll want to finish it and read it again.



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