Like our first kiss and the birth of our children, we remember forever the first book we read in a new language.
My first German book was Die Smaragdenstadt, a story about a group of children traveling to an Emerald City. It was the first “chapter book” I read when I was probably seven years old. I remember how proud I was when I had finished it.
My first English book was Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I was a foreign exchange student in an American high school, and I don’t know why I picked that book of all books to be my first. It kept me reading, I kept turning the pages, and I looked up words incessantly in my German-English dictionary. I learned.
My first Spanish book was Once Minutos by Paulo Coelho. It’s a paperback of 242 pages. I bought it in the beginning of December 2009 on a trip to Oakland, and it’s taken me until now to finish it, much longer than I thought it would.
Why did I pick Once Minutos?
The author, Paulo Cuelho is also the author the the bestseller El Alquimista (the Alchemist), which I had just read about a year before. The Alchemist is a fable-like story of a shepard getting life lessons during an impossible journey. The language was simple, the story more like a children’s book. So I thought this would work well for my entrance into original Spanish literature.
In hindsight, the choice was not such a good one. First, Coelho is not Spanish, he’s Brazilian, so I he writes in Portuguese. The Alchemist actually has the Guinness World Record for the most translated book of all time (67 languages). So much for my choice of an original Spanish writer.
Once Minutos (Eleven Minutes) is the story of Maria, a girl born in Brazil.
Érase una vez una prostituta llamada Maria.
There once was a prostitute named Maria, the book starts. We follow Maria through her early childhood in a backwater town in Brazil, her first unreciprocated love for a boy in elementary school, her growing up. Eventually she wants to see the wide world. She is swept up by a Swiss disco owner who is exporting exotic Brazilian girls to his Geneva clubs for Samba dance troupes. Maria becomes lonely and disillusioned and figures out quickly that she is an indentured servant with no way out of her situation. It does not take long before she becomes a prostitute. Her goal, however, remains to make enough money to buy a hazienda for her and her parents in the country in Brazil, find a husband, have children, and live happily ever after.
The “Eleven Minutes” is about the time it takes for the average couple for a love-making session. That’s all. Everything leading up to it, and down from it, is not relevant. The whole world revolves around the Eleven Minutes.
Eleven Minutes is by all means a sexually explicit novel.
Aquello era el dolor y el placer, el mango del látigo presionando el clítoris cada vez más fuerte, y el orgasmo saliendo por la boca, por el sexo, por los poros, por los ojos, por toda su piel. (pg 166)
You don’t need to know Spanish and I don’t need to translate for you to get the gist of what this is about.
Maria discovers her sexuality, not through her job as a prostitute, but rather through a few men that teach her, through trantric teachings, through sadism and other exotic techniques.
You’d think that this would be an interesting read for me as my first Spanish book. If I were 15 years old, the age I was when I secretly bought Fanny Hill, as all my friends did, and read it hidden from parents, siblings and friends, I would enjoy Once Minutos. It’s written for young people that want to read about sexual coming of age. But for me, call me jaded, call me grown up, place me past my sexual prime, it was flat-out boring. I was not interested in reading about a girl and her clitoris. I chucked about sentimental musings about making love and the merging of not just two souls, but the completion of the universe.
Al mismo tiempo que sentía su sexo dentro de mí, sentía también su mano en los senos, los nalgas, tocándome como sólo una mujer sabe hacerlo. Entonces entendí que estábamos hechos el uno para el otro, porque él conseguía ser mujer como ahora, y yo conseguía ser hombre como cuando conversamos o no iniciamos en el encuentro de las dos almas perdidas, de los dos fragmentos que faltaban para completar el universo. (pg 235)
Since the subject matter was not all that interesting, since it was not a page turner, but it was work going through this book, I didn’t look up as many vocabs as I should have, I skipped some sentences when I knew Coelho was waxing poetic and I didn’t give a damn, just to get on with it.
If you are a high school kid, like I was when I read Fanny Hill, go get Once Minutos in Spanish, if you’re learning the language, and you can read smutty stuff right in front of your parents. You will enjoy it.
If you are over 25, and you want to learn all the names of the body parts and many Spanish words for breasts, this is the book. I probably increased my vocabulary by 300 words. I doubled my reading speed in Spanish. I met my overall objective. Now, for the next book, I have to pick something adventurous, something I am actually interested in, perhaps history in the Caribbean, something about pirates, to get me through it faster.
Maybe Don Quixote, the greatest novel in the Spanish language? Nah, that comes later. After Ulysses.