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Paulo Coelho’s disappointing Valkyries

Magus-writer Paulo Coelho, despite his
international best-selling author status, was never considered a
talented, serious or provocative author. But in his latest book
released in the US Coelho goes a step further: he talks down to the

Bondo Wyszpolski

Magus-writer Paulo Coelho, despite his
international best-selling author status, was never considered a
talented, serious or provocative author. But in his latest book
released in the US Coelho goes a step further: he talks down to the

Bondo Wyszpolski

The Valkyries: An Encounter with Angels, by Paulo Coelho, trans. by Alan Clarke (Harper Collins, 245 pp., $20)

    With his earlier books, The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage (formerly Diary of a Magus),
    Brazilian Paulo Coelho has perhaps become the best known author of his
    country — which in purely literary terms is unfortunate when one
    considers such writers as Osman Lins, Moacyr Scliar, Rubem Fonseca, and
    Jorge Amado.

    Unlike his compatriots, Coelho’s fiction straddles those somewhat
    dubious categories of self-help, new age, and pop psychology. But while
    the earlier books were successful, or at least satisfactory, The Valkyries lacks the fabulist magic and storytelling charisma of The Alchemist, and by its simplicity even makes us feel that we’re being talked down to.
    We begin in Rio de Janeiro, where Coelho lives when he isn’t
    globe-trotting to promote his many best-selling novels. In this one,
    framed as an autobiographical quest, Coelho is instructed by his Master
    to find and speak with his guardian angel. In the next breath Paulo and
    his wife Christina are scurrying around the Mojave Desert.
    Husband and wife bounce ideas off of one another, and this is an area
    where the book carries some substance. Chris, too, needs to broaden her
    horizons, so if there’s a subtext here, it’s focused on her balancing
    both her spiritual needs and growth and also the difficult-to-foresee
    peregrinations of her spouse. When they begin to bicker we’re not too
    surprised, and the confessional tone of The Valkyries earns
    the author some credit for his frankness. It might have been a more
    interesting picture if Christina had secretly taken notes and written
    her own version of their forty days in the desert.
    Forty days in the desert? The other side of the coin is that The Valkyries seems
    too contrived, too derivative. From Borrego Springs to Indio we meet
    some unusual minor characters (Gene arrives in the nick of time as
    Paulo and Chris, who’ve shed their clothes in the hot desert sun, are
    succumbing to sunstroke and dehydration), but of course the eight
    Valkyries of the title are the most prominent. Led by the red-haired
    Valhalla, these leather-clad young women cruise around the desert on
    motorcycles spewing forth a kind of spiritual talk that no one
    understands. For Paulo, Valhalla is something of a soulmate, and she
    helps him dredge up an incident from his past so he can break his ‘pact
    with defeat.’
    Why should people seek out their personal angels? “Because only the
    angels know the best path,” Paulo tells Chris. “It does no good to seek
    advice about it from others.”

    Nothing wrong in that, perhaps, but ultimately the message is too
    simplistic and the picture too rosy: “The world was in the hands of
    those who had the courage to dream — and to realize their dreams” is
    tolerable; what isn’t is that ‘The day will come when the problem of
    hunger can be solved through the miracle of the multiplication of
    bread.” Ugh, yeah. Paulo, read Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia.
    One admires Paulo Coelho’s wrestling with doubt and wrestling with faith, but The Valkyries is simply treading stale water.

    Excerpt from The Valkyries, by Paulo Coelho

    “I’ve already witnessed a number of miracles,” he began.
    “Many miracles. You and I have even witnessed some together. We watched
    J. create openings in the clouds, fill the darkness with light, move
    objects from one place to another.

    “You’ve seen me read people’s minds, cause the wind to blow, perform
    rituals involving power. I’ve seen magic function many times in my life
    — both for evil and for good. I have no doubts about it.”
    He paused. “But we have also become used to miracles. And we always
    want to see others. Faith is a difficult conquest, and it requires
    daily combat in order to be maintained.”
    It was time for the star to appear, and he had to end his explanation. But Chris interrupted.
    “It’s been that way with our marriage, too,” she said. “And I’m exhausted.”
    “I don’t understand. I’m speaking about the spiritual world.”
    “The only reason I’m able to understand what you’re saying is because I
    know your love,” she said. ”We’ve been together for a long time. But
    after the first two years of Joy and passion, every day began to be a
    challenge for me. It’s been very difficult to keep the flames of our
    love alive.”
    She regretted having brought up the subject — but now she was going to see it through.

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