Friday, November 25, 2011

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho- An Attempted Review

"He has no idea what he is doing. He is walking towards Absolute Limitless Evil, capable of anything.Hamid assumes that Igor is just another adult and that he can confront him either with physical force or with logical argument. What he doesn't know is that Absolute Evil has the heart of a child and takes no responsibility for his actions and is convinced that it's right. And when it doesn't get what it wants, its not afraid of using all possible means to satisfy its desires". - The Winner Stands Alone, Paulo Coelho.

For me, the word macabre and love can never go together. But when it comes to Paulo Coelho's writings, you can obviously expect the unexpected. Before I picked up The Winner Stands Alone (TWSA), my experience with Coelho was moderately sweet. I had read three of his works- The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes and Veronica Decides To Die- and each one them, which I read separated by huge spaces in time, enthralled me at some level. So, while I could not exactly call myself and ardent fan of the author, I was definitely one who trusted him for writing good, out-of-the-box stuff.

Things changed a little with TWSA. It is his twelfth book, and like the earlier ones, touches on a something arcanely sublime, which is way above an ordinary person's realm of imagination and understanding. This, exactly, is what Coelho is famous for doing. TWSA pivots around one protagonist, although in totality, there are five names which shape and aid the development, pace and culmination of this book. 

Igor Malev, is not just the protagonist, but the very subject of this book. He is an extremely successful Russian telecom giant, who visits Cannes Film Festival with a single thing on his mind- to win back his wife Ewa. Ewa, who was once the motivation and the very reason for his existence is now married to a couturier, Hamid Hussein- a man as successful as Igor, but a powerful contradiction in character to him. Igor never recovers from the loss of his wife, and after two years of separation, decides to win her back. He calls himself to be on a 'mission of love', a mission that requires sacrifices- murders. Set against the backdrop of glitz and glamour of the world's most famous film festival, what then ensues is a tale of 'extraordinary violence' (as the book cover puts it), lasting just under 24 hours, revealing the evil which hides in each human soul and busting the myths associated with the world of celebrities.

TWSA is one of Coelho's most criticized books, as I learnt later. The reason for that, as I can guess, are many. For me, however, the prime reason for finding it an unsatisfactory read, was the profound sense of darkness which as an engrossed reader, TWSA filled me up with. The portrayal of the world of glamour, no doubt realistic, is very depressing. It is depicted as an arena in which under the glimmer of stars, what exists is deep darkness, an abyss of depression from which no return is possible. Gabriela, an aspiring and aging actress, and Jasmine, a young and wise model are the characters who are used to convey this aspect of the story, though in a very repetitive fashion. The narrative of the story keeps shifting between all the five characters (and also a few more), and which though essential to the fabric of the story, hinders the lucidity of the storyline at places. The development of the characters, besides that of Igor and perhaps Hamid Hussein, leaves a lot to be desired. The worst bit for me was the contemplative end of the novel. I like stories which end in light, and even though TWSA does not end in total darkness, it gives me nothing positive to carry in my heart.

What I would keep due credit to Coelho for, though, is his hero- Igor Malev. Yes, he is a character I hated, but that is what this character was intended for- to be unabashedly hated by some and to be justified by others. Both categories of people were not expected to like this character, even if they empathized with him at some points. He was a mirror for all the evil thoughts we allow and justify within ourselves. Igor displays what is known as the Lucifer Effect, a kind of psychological condition, in which an otherwise normal individual develops a mindset where he crosses the dividing line between good and evil, and engages in evil action thoroughly justified in his brain. A good revelation of the psyche of the serial killers can be provided by reading this book; though a tale of love I still refuse to believe this book is. Igor's appentence for Ewa is understandable, but his ways and means and thoughts and actions are capable of powerfully unnerving the young believers in love like me.

Reading 'The Winner Stands Alone' on my way to Jaipur.
I've had long, passionate discussions on this novel with three of my friends; Coelho does stimulate your brain that much for sure. So I might go on presenting my opinion of this book in a tiring, dilatory tone. However, succinctly put, it is not a book for all types of readers. Even for Paulo Coelho admirers, may be this is one book you can skip.Love might not have been the central theme of this book, but it is depicted as the underlying motivation for all things evil. I would give it only about 2 stars on five, and maintain, that for me, macabre and love can never go together.


  1. Lucky to have had a conversation with you on this book. Surely an interesting conversation. I think, it unfortunately establishes the possibility of such disapproving loners, only just accepted by the society because of their stature.

    Looking forward to read the book.

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  3. @Saurabh
    As I said, you 'deserve' to read the book :P Don't establish kindred bonds with Igor though. I will soon dump the book in your care :)

    On more serious note, I am glad to have had you as one of the three people to discuss the book with. Your insights made the book more comprehensible. Thank you!

  4. U write so good. These lines add emotions n a new dimension to the book. Go on Saumya. All d best !!

  5. Welcome to Nascent Emissions Arvind! Really nice to see you around, and thank you so much for the encouragement :)

  6. Well..I agree with you about incompatibility of macabre and love. But anyways I found the book intriguing..

  7. Well..I agree with you about incompatibility of macabre and love. But anyways I found the book intriguing..