Excerpted from Adultery by Paulo Coelho. Copyright © 2014 by Paulo Coelho. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
One of the most influential writers of our time, Paulo Coelho is the author of many international best sellers, including The Alchemist, Aleph, Eleven Minutes, and Manuscript Found in Accra. Translated into 80 languages, his books have sold more than 165 million copies in more than 170 countries. He is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and has received the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur. In 2007, he was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
Connect with the author:
Uno de los escritores más influyentes de nuestro tiempo, Paulo Coelho es el autor de múltiples bestsellers internacionales, incluyendo El Alquimista, Aleph, Once Minutos y El Peregrino. Traducido a 74 idiomas, sus libros han vendido más de 140 millones de copias en más de 170 países. Es miembro de la Academia Brasileña de Letras y, en 2007, fue nombrado Mensajero de la Paz de las Naciones Unidas.
A conversation with
“The decision to be with someone is a matter of love. It cannot be enforced—not by society or children. You choose to be with someone because it fills your life with joy.”
Why did you choose the subject of adultery for your new novel?
Paulo Coelho: I am constantly in touch with my readers on the social networks and I started to notice there were a lot of comments about depression. At first I thought of writing a post about it, so I anonymously asked people in online forums to tell me more about their problems. To my surprise, they didn’t talk about disease, but betrayal. I couldn’t have imagined it, but as I started debating the subject, I understood how rich it was. That is how the unconscious idea for a book was first born.
How did you research this subject?
Paulo Coelho: I participated in adultery forums, not as a writer, but as a woman or a man—someone who had committed infidelity or had been betrayed. I was able to see how complicated the issue was in people’s minds. They were very hurt and ended up splitting, but many regretted that later on. I realized many of the stories were rooted in marriage crises, so I developed the plot of Adultery based on the one I deemed as most interesting. You could say the book sprung out of my mind as if fully formed.
How did it feel to write in the first person from a female perspective?
Paulo Coelho: I have done it often before. I wrote Eleven Minutes from the point of view of a female prostitute and By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept was written as if I was a woman searching for her loved one. I can blend in and get involved with some characters to such extent that it is hard to tell the difference between the two of us as I am writing.
As she begins to question her life, the main character goes through a development process. Can betrayal lead to happiness?
Paulo Coelho: First of all we need to define betrayal. It certainly isn’t my road to happiness. The road to happiness lies in understanding marriage isn’t a static entity—it is dynamic and in constant transformation. You might think the woman you’ve been with for ten years is the same person you got married to, but that’s not the case. In reality, the road to happiness is paved with compromise.
What is the great villain in a relationship between two people?
Paulo Coelho: The great villain is the attempt to “freeze” that relationship, under the assumption that you can always keep it the way it used to be. The decision to be with someone is a matter of love. It cannot be enforced—not by society or children. You choose to be with someone because it fills your life with joy. Without that joy, it’s hard to go on. It is fundamentally important to recognize relationships as a great challenge.
Can love forgive everything?
Paulo Coelho: It can, and the prime example of it is Jesus Christ, whose self-sacrifice forgave the sins of the world. It is very important to understand forgiveness. I think we’ve all been through that. In a healthy relationship love can forgive everything—I won’t say it can accept, but it can forgive. This includes arguments, of course. Arguments are normal and even recommended—contrary to popular belief, they help keep the relationship alive. I have been married for 34 years and even today we have open conversations and maintain a dialogue going. Naturally we have our difficult moments, but we carry on.
Do you agree with the saying “out of sight, out of mind”?
Paulo Coelho: I don’t. My first big books were written in exile, so I would say absence makes the heart grow fonder and feel everything more deeply. You can certainly try to deny it, but it is a silly excuse to keep something hidden, as a secret. You will sustain less emotional damage if you are honest and positive.
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1. In the beginning of the novel, Linda describes herself as risk-averse. How does the concept of risk taking factor into the protagonist’s actions throughout the novel? By the end of the novel, do you think that she associates risk with reward?
2. How is love defined throughout Adultery? On page 90, Linda contemplates requited versus unrequited love. Which type of love do you believe is more transformative in the novel?
3. Throughout the novel, the protagonist attempts to articulate what her unhappiness feels like: “an animal who can’t quite understand how it got caught in the trap,” a “spongy black hole.” How did these analogies help to shape your understanding of her mental state? Did you feel sympathy for the character throughout your reading experience?
4. On page 131, Linda claims she feels “comfortable in my madness.” Are there points where you feel that she is losing touch with reality or giving in to delusional thinking?
5. Why is Jacob so attractive to Linda? Is it the illicitness of their affair that excites her, or does she have a genuine appreciation for his personality? What aspects of his personality are most appealing to her?
6. On page 125, the protagonist emphasizes the importance of “keeping up appearances.[PE1] ” How does that need to exhibit a normal, happy life arise throughout Adultery? Where in the novel do the boundaries between public and private personas become blurred?
[PE1]Please verify that this is the page citation meant.
7. Discuss the significance of the novel Frankenstein throughout Adultery. How is the scientist/monster dichotomy reflected in the Linda’s own personality and actions?
8. On page 158, the protagonist laments that all she feels is “insomnia, emptiness, and apathy, and, if you just ask yourselves, you’re feeling the same thing.” Why do you think the author chose to direct that sentiment toward the reader? Are there other places in the novel wherein the protagonist assumes the reader feels the same way she does?
9. Examine the scene in which Marianne and Jacob dine with Linda and her husband. Based on what was said, do you think that Marianne had any suspicion about her husband’s affair? Or did Linda’s anxiety about the situation color her perception of Marianne’s words?
10. Discussions regarding drug usage in Switzerland occur several times in the book. Before going to meet the drug dealer, Linda notes that the Swiss “both prohibit and tolerate” drugs at the same time (page 116). What does this contradiction say about Swiss culture?
11. Adultery is set in Switzerland, and mentions of Swiss culture pepper the narrative. Discuss what you learned about Geneva and Swiss culture. Did anything surprise you? Are there any connections to be made between the discussion of cultural norms in Swiss culture and the protagonist’s actions?
12. As her affair progresses, Linda’s actions and thoughts take a darker, more obsessive tone. Did your perception of her change throughout the novel? How did you react to her decision to “destroy” Marianne?
13. Adultery is a novel that explores the line between morality and immorality. How does Linda define morality? How does her husband? What actions—if any—would you deem immoral?
14. It could be argued that Adultery is about examining selfhood. How does Linda’s understanding of herself and her desires change by the end of the novel? What does her affair teach her about herself? About her relationship with her husband? Do you think she regrets her affair?
15. Discuss the scene in which the protagonist and her husband go paragliding (page 241). How does that experience transform her? Why do you think she cries after she lands?