Book review: 'Hippie' by Paulo Coelho

Hippie opens with lines from
Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali –

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,
- that the path before me was closed,
That provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and when the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

These lines set the premise for Paulo Coelho’s latest, which introduces us to his days as a hippie in the 1960s when he was still a young, skinny Brazilian with long, flowing hair and a goatee, with dreams of becoming a writer.

He sets off on a journey of exploration, seeking the true meaning of life, spirituality, and freedom. Hitchhiking his way through Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina, he finally lands in Amsterdam where he meets Karla, a Dutch woman in her 20s, who is on the lookout for a travel companion to go to Kathmandu, Nepal, to be “in touch with the universe”, her spiritual liberation. Paulo agrees to go with her. They board the ‘magic bus’ along with like-minded travellers – “They ranged from underage runaways to an older man who kept his eyes locked on the horizon, with the look of someone who’d already reached a long-coveted enlightenment and had now decided to embark on a journey, a long journey.

There were two drivers…” They all have their own stories to relate, and life lessons to impart. As the bus traverses across Europe and Asia, on the way to Nepal, we meet a variety of personalities. For Paulo, all this is a learning experience. After all, he has embarked on this journey with no set plans. For him, any experience is life-enriching, and a step towards his search for the eternal truth of life.

As the journey progresses, we find Karla, who had initially seemed independent and not the one to be tied down by emotions, falling in love with Paulo. “I never thought I would be capable of loving someone the way I love you. I am going to love you for the rest of my life,” Karla tells Paulo. However, for Paulo, it’s not love that matters at this point in time, but the exploration of Sufism. He decides to stay back in Istanbul, while she continues her journey to Nepal. “There, in Istanbul… they had chosen to journey into their own souls and there was nothing better or more comforting than this.”

As we thumb through the pages, it becomes evident that the two dominant themes of Hippie are love and spirituality. There are paragraphs after paragraphs about love, life in general, and spirituality, making one wonder where the story is heading. Well, come to think of it, Hippie tells no story. Rather, it’s like a slide show designed around Paulo and his quest for the true meaning of life. The many characters mentioned in the book are also like guest stars who make an appearance that’s hardly noticeable. Except for Paulo, there are no other well-rounded characters.

And of course, the book is centered around the hippie movement that was at its zenith in the 1960s and 70s. The book talks about Paulo being in jail and tortured because the military dictatorship did not understand the hippies.

However, the author has stated in an interview that the hippie movement has indeed impacted him as a writer — “The hippie movement was my epiphany. When the hippies arrived with a completely different idea of the world, I totally identified with them. One must recall that it was a very repressive period, when anyone different was, in one way or another, attacked.”

It’s very unlike Paulo Coelho’s body of work. As any follower of Paulo Coelho’s writings would agree, the author’s books always generate a lot of interest. Not for nothing is he the most translated living author in the world. A source of inspiration for many, his books, especially The Alchemist, serve as reminders that no matter who we are, or where we are, we are the masters of our destiny.

No wonder, when Hippie came out, I grabbed it greedily. After all, I am an ardent fan of his writing. The fact that it’s part-memoir, part-fiction, added to the curiosity around the book. But was soon disappointed, and left with a feeling of disenchantment.

Sorry to say this, but Hippie is definitely not for his regular readers.

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Book review: 'Hippie' by Paulo Coelho

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