Hippie - novel or autobiography? | Sunday Observer

Hippie - novel or autobiography?

12 July, 2020

Title: Hippie  

Author: Paulo Coelho  

Publisher: Penguin Viking  

Distribution in Sri Lanka: Vijitha Yapa Bookshop    

International bestselling Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho’s new novel, ‘Hippie’ launched recently has created mixed feelings among readers. Though ‘Hippie’ is introduced as a novel, it is widely regarded as an autobiography of Paulo Coelho written in the third person. Some critics say it is the most autobiographical novel of Paulo Coelho.  

The protagonist of the novel is young Paulo. He is a skinny Brazilian man with a goatee and long, flowing hair who wishes to become a writer. He sets off on a journey in search of a deeper meaning for his life: first on the famous ‘Death Train’ to Bolivia, then on to Peru, later hitchhiking through Chile and Argentina.  

The text on the book cover sums up the novel:  

“Paulo’s travels take him farther to the famous Dam Square in Amsterdam, filled with young people wearing vibrant clothes, burning incense, and playing music, while they discuss sexual liberation and the search for inner truth.  

“There he meets Karla, a Dutch woman in her twenties who has been waiting to find the ideal companion to accompany her on the fabled hippie trail to Nepal. She convinces Paulo to join her on a trip aboard the Magic Bus that travels across Europe and Central Asia to Kathmandu. They embark on the journey in the company of intriguing companions, each of whom has a story to tell.  

“As they travel together, Paulo and Karla explore their relationship: a life - defining love story that awakens them on every level and leads to choices and decisions that will set the course for their lives thereafter.”  

As Coelho tries to tell his life story, ‘Hippie’ deviates from the literary form of a novel and is cornered to the reportage, making it consider the book as a work of fiction. This is evident in the first chapter too. Any reader of Paulo Coelho’s book may think - Is this a novel? But there are aesthetics in it too. So, you can enjoy some of the chapters, but most of the time it is not.  

The author introduces the book in the first chapter as:  

“The stories that follow come from my personal experiences. I’ve altered the order, names, and details of the people here, I was forced to condense some scenes, but everything that follows truly happened to me. I’ve used the third person because this allowed me to give characters unique voices with which to describe their lives.”  

In my view, the author has mistaken a novel to a true story. If fiction is formed by facts only, how could it be fiction? A novel should have imagination and without an imaginary world, it can’t be a novel.

By altering the order of events, names of people and details of them, you can write a beautiful feature article in a newspaper, but not fiction. Facts are important to build up the foundation of a novel, but not the other greater part, it is formed by imagination only.  

By saying “…The stories that follow come from my personal experiences” or “everything that follows truly happened to me,” Coelho tries to persuade or influence the reader to read ‘Hippie’ as a memoir or autobiography. This is a very bad effect for a fiction reader, because if he tries to search for facts about the author in a novel, he cannot enjoy the book and get insights.   Coelho relies too much on the spiritual part of life. But there is no spirituality in a fiction. Spirituality is connected to the brain or mind and a fiction has no any connection with the mind. Fiction deals with the feelings or emotions. When you go down in more and more emotions or feelings in a fiction, there you generate insights. Insights are the final result of a fiction and it should emerge from the delight that you get by enjoying the aesthetics of a fiction. In a way, insight is wisdom.

There is no difference between them. And if there are insights, invariably there should have spirituality in it too. With more and more insights in a literary work, you can heighten the spiritual value of it. But in the case of Coelho, he is so much obsessed by the spirituality that he takes the fiction as a field of spirituality making. And it is by this fact that he embark on to write this book, which is a great mistake.  

Hippie or the Hippie Movement is a landmark in the history of society changing. But when you take it as a base or plot of a fiction, that Hippie or Hippie movement might be changed from the original one. It’s not necessary to protect or depict the real hippie movement by an author.  Author has to be true to the experiences or feelings he depicts. He need not honest for the outward movements or establishments. With truing to the outer world, you can write a good description, but cannot launch insights. That’s the problem that most readers find in this book.  

Speaking about the novel, Jennifer Blankfein, social media reader writes:  

“Even though I enjoyed learning a little more about Paulo Coelho, his rebellious stage and his emotional journey to find the meaning of life, for me, ‘Hippie’ fell flat. Written like a story, but based on his real life, I didn’t think it portrayed Coelho’s vibrant youth and his travels in a compelling and powerful way. There were tidbits of insight and lessons but the characters were not developed enough for me to care. The politically charged, free thinking sex, drugs rock and roll hippie attitude was described but not written completely enough to evoke emotion. I get the feeling that this piece of writing is more meaningful to Coelho than to readers.”  

Another reader,Kate Vocke writes like this:  

“… I know it is supposed to be a sort of love story, while also following a group of hippies trying to find their place in such a tumultuous world (which mirrors today’s world, I suppose) but to me it just fell flat. It could have been written by anyone. I didn’t feel like I was reading Coelho, and I didn’t really enjoy much of it.”  

Yet another reader,Naddy comments as follows:  

“I tried so much to like it but despite multiple efforts, this book failed horrendously. I literally cursed myself why did I pick this book. I am not a fan of Paulo Coelho, and didn’t like ‘Alchemist’ though I have enjoyed ‘Veronica decides to die’ and ‘Eleven minutes’. Humble request, don’t pick this book even you have been a fan of Paulo. It is not something out of box. 4 lines from 4 lines from Sufisim and tried to explain over the period of 287 pages, but full of potholes.”   But there are positive responses too. The following comment was from a reader named, J. Becket:  

“Classic Coelho! This was a trip deep into a period that has a multitude of layers. Coelho captures the era in vivid detail, as he experienced it. A must-read for anyone curious or simply interested in the 60s and the Hippie movement, politics, war, and the lives that made and changed history. Amazing book!!!”  

This is comment from M. Starks:  

“I won this book in a giveaway, very excited to read it the moment it arrived in the mail. I could begin to see the shape of The Alchemist (one of my favorites) take form along Paulo’s journey.”  

This is from a different reader:  

“As I became absorbed in this tale, I began to anticipate the descriptions of the various cities and cultures encountered from the hippies’ point of view. Sadly, the book ended. On reflection, I don’t feel as though I heard an entire story. What I read seems like it could have been simply a chapter in a long saga. I’m not sure why the author chose to end this volume where he did. It certainly didn’t feel like a natural break in the narrative.”  

However, it is intriguing to read the ‘Hippie’ as it is based on Coelho’s real life and facts around the Hippie movement in 1970s.