Prolific Brazilian author Coelho is back with another novel, loosely based on his experiences growing up (a problematic phrase) in the psychedelic 1960s and '70s.
The novel reads rather like a series of impressions clustered around a trip (no pun intended) through Europe and toward Kathmandu. While the narrative is written in the third person, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to identify some aspects of a character named “Paulo” (also referred to as “the Brazilian”) with the author. This character has linked up with Karla in Amsterdam in September 1970. They meet, appropriately enough, in Dam Square, perhaps the hippie center of the cosmos. Karla is Dutch and a Protestant, and she yearns to see the world from a wider perspective. She’s at peace with solitude, and her dream involves “traveling to Nepal...to find a cave and remain there alone until her teeth fell out, [and] her hair became white.” Meeting Paulo complicates both of their lives, however, for she would like him to be her travel companion on a bus trip from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, through Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and beyond. There are 20 people on the bus, including a Frenchman and his daughter (occasionally mistaken for man and wife) as well as Rayan, a charismatic Irishman, and his stunning girlfriend, Mirthe. They all tend to behave as we imagine hippies are supposed to behave—they take drugs, skinny dip in a river, and show an interest in ecstatic experiences. When they arrive for an extended stay in Istanbul, Karla and Paulo’s relationship becomes even more complicated, as she feels drawn to him in a way he can’t reciprocate.
A nostalgic immersion in the mind-blowing 1960s.