Thursday, 25 February 2021

The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

"A stranger arrives at the remote village of Viscos, carrying with him a backpack containing a notebook and eleven gold bars. He comes searching for the answer to a question that torments him: Are human beings, in essence, good or evil? In welcoming the mysterious foreigner, the whole village becomes an accomplice to his sophisticated plot, which will forever mark their lives."

It is pure coincidence that I read this book just after reading Barabbas. The two books are not alike, but they both deal with one age old question: that about good and evil. In Barabbas the protagonists  are Jesus and Barabbas. Without doubt we would see Jesus as the good and Barabbas as the evil. In The Devil and Miss Prym the devil comes in the form of a stranger, the evil and goodness in the form of Miss Prym. As we know, some questions are not so simple to answer. The opening is grand as so worthy Paulo Coleho.

"For almost fifteen years, old Berta had spent every day sitting outside her front door. The people of Viscos knew that this was normal behaviour amongst old people: they sit dreaming of the past and of their youth; they look out in a world where they no longer play a part and try to find something to talk to the neighbours about. 

Berta, however, had a reason for being there. And that morning her waiting came to an end when she saw the stranger climbing the steep hill up to the village, heading for its one hotel. He did not look as she had so often imagine he would: his clothes were shabby, he wore his hair unfashionably long, he was unshaven.

And he was accompanied by the Devil."

Miss Prym is interested in the stranger. She is the youngest woman in the village and is hoping to find a man that can take her away from there. Miss Prym is following the stranger the next morning when he walks up the mountains. She makes sure they will meet. On his way down the mountain they meet, as both expected.  The stranger gives her a proposition. In the mountain he has hidden eleven gold bars. One is hers if she tells the village people that they can have the other ten if they kill one of the villagers. All of them will be able to live without thinking of money for the rest of their life. 

”Why are you doing this? Why did you choose my village?” 

”It’s nothing to do with you or with your village. I’m simply thinking of myself; the story of one man is the story fo all men. I need to know if we are good or evil. If we are good, God is just and will forgive me for all I have done, for the harm I wished on those who tried to destroy me, for the wrong decisions I took at key moments, for the proposition I am putting to you now - for He was the one who drove me towards the dark.

”But if we’re evil, the everything i s permitted, I never took a wrong decision, we are all condemned from the start, and it doesn’t matter what we do in this life, for redemption lies beyond either human thought of deed.”

Before Chantal could leave, he added:

”You may decide not to cooperate, in which case, I’ll tell everyone that I gave you the chance to help them, but you refused, and then I’ll put my proposition to them myself. If they do decide to kill someone, you will probably be their chosen victim.”

Miss Prym is chocked over the proposal and fights with her conscience. Should she tell or not? The villagers on their part are full of their own wishes and expectations. Even the priest has his own past and hopes for a glorious future. The stranger has set events in motion and is eagerly awaiting the outcome. 

Elegantly, as ever, Coelho takes us through the philosophical pitfalls while exploring the minds of the village people and Miss Prym's dilemma. It is, as much of Coelho's production, a masterly story. It is a story of dreams, how to fulfil them, and how far we are willing to go. Coelho's stories touches the core of life. 

The ending is somewhat interesting and really open for discussion. Have you read the book? Any views on the ending?


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