Reviews of Hippie, Fashion Climbing, Sabrina and Killing Commendatore.
Paulo Coelho’s account of riding the Magic Bus offers few insights, whether as a travel story or a mystical journey.
Hippie is best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s contribution to a small avalanche of books marking the 50th anniversary of 1968.
That momentous year, it will be remembered, followed on from 1967’s Summer of Love and saw, among other events, the Prague Spring, riots in Paris and Chicago, the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, massacres at My Lai in Vietnam and Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City, a general strike in France, Black Power salutes on the Olympic medal podium, Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech, “Hey Jude”, “Street Fighting Man” and Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”.
In response, many young people, and some not so young, sought to flee the apparent death throes of Western middle-class orthodoxy and ride the famous Magic Bus, which, for a mere $70 a seat, would bump and grind the 9000 kilometres from Amsterdam to Kathmandu with a cargo of spiritual seekers on a journey fuelled by tantric pleasure, hashish and the lure of authentic spirituality and cheap psychedelics (which to some were the same thing). The young Coelho, already a student of esoteric mysticism, was one of those who took the trip (the pun is inevitable) and he has now assembled his notes into a “novel” (or “auto-fiction”, if we want to be more current) in which he features as a major character, though all other names have been changed.
Coelho has virtually owned the spiritual-quest genre since the 1980s with the best-selling The Alchemist, Aleph and his account of the Camino de Santiago, The Pilgrimage. In a cynical age it can be refreshing to read a narrative which sets out to prove that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, and it’s comforting to know that the world’s wisdom traditions can be stripped of their inhibiting doctrines and savoured in small bites with no obligation to buy. Even so, $70 seems a little too cheap.
As Hippie opens, Paulo is arriving in Amsterdam, having fled a severe beating by the Brazil paramilitary. Thankfully the universe has arranged for him to meet Karla, a beautiful young Dutch woman waiting in Dam Square for the right man to be her travelling companion and soulmate on the Magic Bus. Coelho the Elder allows himself some affectionate mockery of the young couple (“Karla was allowing her soul to bare itself … Where will my heart lead if I’ve yet to wander so many unknown paths?”) and also of the hippie community with its love for all things innocent, floral and Eastern, but he remains at heart a true believer — “The two of them had come together for some mysterious
ABOVE— As a young man,Paulo Coelho joined other spiritual seekers on a drug-fuelled trip.