The Winner Stands Alone : My comments on the book by Paulo Coelho
FOLLOW MY DREAM – BUT WHICH ONE?
One of the recurrent themes of my books is the importance of paying the price of your dreams. But to what extent can our dreams be manipulated? For the past decades, we lived in a culture that privileged fame, money, power – and most of the people were led to believe that these were the real values that we should pursue.
We all should be a “winner”. Not in the sense of someone who finally wins what is important to his/her life. Not in the sense that happiness is the most valuable gift on Earth – and it can be attained here and now, when your work fulfills your heart. We should be a winner in the sense that the system portraits a successful person: celebrity, influence, photos in glossy magazines, behaving like the masters of the universe.
Yes, you may reach the goal society has fed you – but will you be satisfied? Will you be whole? Will you be in peace? This cycle of possession never ends – because the moment that you think that you have reached your goal another desire creeps in. And how can you find rest when it is the hunt that moves you?
While people are connected – omniscient thanks to their mobile phones and GPS – they all speak the same words, fight for the same goals, and crave the same things. How could it be otherwise? If fashion exists it is precisely because you can mold the desire of the masses – or how else could a bag, a dress impose itself as necessary?
In a world of invisible yet unsurpassable “diktats”, where a few puppeteers pull the strings of the many, instill in other people’s dreams the pursue of superficial things, there seems to be a rising feeling, a silent despair that creeps in.
Greed to have, greed to be seen, greed to prevail, even greed to kill, if you think it is for a good cause – like love, for example.
What we don’t know is that, behind the scenes, the real manipulators remain anonymous. They understand that the most effective power is the one that nobody can notice – until it is too late, and you a trapped. This book is about this trap.
Soon after I finished writing “The winner stands alone”, the financial market collapsed. Will this lead us again to the real values? I really don’t know. What I do know is that we cannot continue to allow our dreams to be manipulated like they are as for three of the four main characters in the book:
Igor, a Russian millionaire, who believes that you can kill if you have a good reason for that – like avoiding human suffering, or bringing back the attention the woman he loves.
Hamid, a fashion magnate, who started with good intentions, till he got caught by the very system he was trying to use.
Gabriela, who – like most of the people today – is convinced that fame is an end by itself, the supreme reward in a world that praises ccelebrity as the supreme achievement in life.
As I finish writing these pages, there are currently several dictators in power. One country in the Middle East has been invaded by the world’s only superpower. Support for terrorist groups is growing. Fundamentalist Christians have the ability to elect presidents. The spiritual search is manipulated by various sects each claiming to possess ‘absolute knowledge’. Whole cities are wiped from the map by Nature’s fury. According to research carried out by a reputable American intellectual, all the world’s power rests in the hands of six thousand people.
There are thousands of prisoners of conscience on every continent. Torture is once again deemed acceptable as an interrogation method. The wealthier nations are closing their borders. The poorer nations are witnessing an unprecedented exodus as their inhabitants leave in search of El Dorado. Genocide continues to be committed in at least two African countries. The economic system is showing signs of break-down, and great fortunes are beginning to collapse. Child slavery has become a constant. Hundreds of millions of people live below the poverty line. Nuclear proliferation is accepted as irreversible. New diseases emerge. The old diseases have not yet been brought under control.
But is this a portrait of the world I live in?
Of course not. When I decided to take a snapshot of my own times, I wrote this book.
So please join me in this journey into a world that is coming to an end. You will see glittery, glamour, and blood – but don’t see this book as a thriller: it is a crude portrait of where we are now. We are part of the solution, if we go back to the real values of life, being “follow your dream” the most important of all. Not the dreams of the Superclass. Not the dreams of our parents, or our partners. We should be what we always wanted to be.
The Winner Stands Alone : Chapter I by Paulo Coelho
The Beretta Px4 compact pistol is slightly larger than a mobile phone, weighs around 700 grams and can fire ten shots. Small, light, invisible when carried in a pocket, its small calibre has one enormous advantage: instead of passing through the victim’s body, the bullet hits bones and smashes everything in its path.
Obviously the chances of surviving a shot of that calibre are fairly high; there are thousands of cases in which no vital artery was severed and the victim had time to react and disarm his attacker. However, if the person firing the pistol is experienced enough, he can opt either for a quick death – by aiming at the point between the eyes or at the heart – or a slower one - by placing the barrel at a certain angle close to the ribs and squeezing the trigger. The person shot takes a while to realise that he has been mortally wounded and tries to fight back, run away or call for help. The great advantage of this is that the victim has time to see his killer’s face, while his strength ebbs slowly away and he falls to the ground, with little external loss of blood, still not fully understanding why this is happening to him.
It is far from being the ideal weapon for experts. ‘Nice and light – in a lady’s handbag. No stopping power though,’ someone in the British Secret Service tells James Bond in the first film in the series, meanwhile confiscating Bond’s old pistol and handing him a new model. However, that advice applied only to professionals, and for what he now had in mind it was perfect.
He had bought the Beretta on the black market so that it would be impossible to trace. There are five bullets in the magazine, although he intends to use only one, the tip of which he has marked with an ‘X’, using a nail file. That way, when it’s fired and hits something solid, it will break into four pieces.
He will only use the Beretta as a last resort. There are other ways of extinguishing a world, of destroying a universe, and she will probably understand the message as soon as the first victim is found. She will know that he did it in the name of love, and that he feels no resentment, but will take her back and ask no questions about her life during these past two years.
He hopes that six months of careful planning will produce results, but he will only know for sure tomorrow morning. His plan is to allow the Furies, those ancient figures from Greek mythology, to descend on their black wings to that blue-and-white landscape full of diamonds, botox and high-speed cars of no use to anyone because they carry only two passengers. With the little artifacts he has brought with him, all those dreams of power, success, fame and money could be punctured in an instant.
He could have gone up to his room because the scene he had been waiting to witness occurred at 11.11 p.m., although he would have been prepared to wait for even longer. The man and his beautiful companion arrived - both of them in full evening dress - for yet another of those gala events that take place each night after every important supper, and which attracted more people than any film première at the Festival.
Igor ignored the woman. He shielded his face behind a French newspaper (a Russian newspaper would have aroused suspicions) so that she wouldn’t see him. An unnecessary precaution: like all women who feel themselves to be queen of the world, she never looked at anyone else. Such women are there in order to shine and always avoid looking at what other people are wearing because, even if their own clothes and accessories have cost them a fortune, the number of diamonds or a particularly exclusive outfit worn by someone else might make them feel depressed or bad-tempered or inferior.
Her elegant, silver-haired companion went over to the bar and ordered champagne, a necessary aperitif for a night that promised new contacts, good music and a fine view of the beach and the yachts moored in the harbour.
He noticed how extremely polite the man was, thanking the waitress when she brought their drinks and giving her a large tip.
The three of them knew each other. Igor felt a great wave of happiness as the adrenaline began to mingle with his blood. The following day he would make her fully aware of his presence there and, at some point, they would meet.
God alone knew what would come of that meeting. Igor, an orthodox Catholic, had made a promise and sworn an oath in a church in Moscow before the relics of St Mary Magdalene (which were in the Russian capital for a week, so that the faithful could worship them). He had queued for nearly five hours and, when he finally saw them, had felt sure that the whole thing was something dreamed up by the priests. He did not, however, want to run the risk of breaking his word, and so he had asked for her protection and help in achieving his goal without too much sacrifice. And he had promised, too, that when it was all over and he could at last return to his native land, he would commission a golden icon from a well-known artist who lived in a monastery in Novosibirsk.
At three in the morning, the bar of the Hotel Martinez smells of cigarettes and sweat. By then, Jimmy (who always wears different coloured shoes) has stopped playing the piano, and the waitress is exhausted, but the people who are still there refuse to leave. They want to stay in that lobby for at least another hour or even all night until something happens!
They’re already four days into the Cannes Film Festival and still nothing has happened. Every guest at every table is interested in but one thing: meeting the people with Power. Pretty women are waiting for a producer to fall in love with them and give them a major role in their next movie. A few actors are talking amongst themselves, laughing and pretending that the whole business is a matter of complete indifference to them - but they always keep one eye on the door.
Someone is about to arrive. Someone must arrive. Young directors, full of ideas and with CVs listing the videos they made at university, and who have read everything ever written about photography and scriptwriting, are hoping for a stroke of luck; perhaps meeting someone just back from a party who is looking for an empty table where he’ll order a coffee and light a cigarette, someone who’s tired of going to the same old places all the time and feels ready for a new adventure.
If that did happen, the last thing such a person would want to hear about is some ‘really fresh angle’ on a hackneyed subject; but despair can deceive the desperate. The people with power who do occasionally enter merely glance around, then go up to their rooms. They’re not worried. They have nothing to fear. The Superclass does not forgive betrayals and they know their limitations – whatever the legend may say, they didn’t get where they are by trampling on others. On the other hand, if there is some important new discovery to be made – be it in the world of cinema, music or fashion – it will emerge only after much research and not in some hotel bar.
The Superclass are now making love to the girl who managed to gatecrash the party and who is game for anything. They’re taking off their make-up, studying the lines on their faces and thinking that it’s time for more plastic surgery. They’re looking at the on-line news to see if the announcement they made earlier that day has been picked up by the media. They’re taking the inevitable sleeping pill and drinking the tea that promises easy weight-loss. They’re ticking the boxes on the menu for their room service breakfast and hanging it on the door handle along with the sign saying ‘Do not disturb’. The Superclass are closing their eyes and thinking: ‘I hope I get to sleep quickly. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow at ten.’
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