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Coelho’s “muse” demystifies prostitution

Mariana Brasil's book seeks to demystify prostitution Keystone Archive

Mariana Brasil, who inspired the world famous author Paulo Coelho, has written about her five-year experience as a prostitute in Switzerland and abroad.

In her book Entre as Fronteiras (Between Borders), Brasil faces up to her past, reveals her innermost self and demystifies prostitution.

Mariana Brasil – the nom de plume of Sônia C.M. – is discreetly elegant. An attentive listener, this 38-year-old from the Brazilian state of Paraná is a striking presence.

At age 24, Brasil crossed the line when she chose to work as a prostitute and moved to Europe to, as she puts it, “try her luck, without the slightest idea of the difficulties in store”.

However, she found her way back home five years later, seeking salvation in writing. Her book, to which Coelho refers in the footnote of his own Eleven Minutes, was published 18 months ago in Brazil.

Reality of prostitution

She recounts, “without false glamour” as she likes to point out, the everyday life of a prostitute, with its excitement, inner conflict, problems, misery and suffering.

The story told by Brasil has very little to do with Maria, the central character in Coelho’s book. Indeed, it is probably wrong to say that Mariana is Coelho’s “muse” at all.

Sônia C.M. has an explanation for this. She feels that Coelho deals with the subject from the male standpoint, while her book has the woman’s focus “of someone who experienced the reality of prostitution, someone who has lived through it personally”.

Coelho and Brasil met twice. The first time was in Italy, in 1999, where she managed to deliver her manuscript to the famous author.

The second meeting took place in Switzerland in 2000, when she was able to talk with Coelho at greater length and show him the red light district of Zurich, one of her main places of work.

For some time, the author of The Alchemist had been planning a book dealing “seriously” with sexuality.

According to Coelho, his visit to Mariana’s main place of work – Zurich’s Langstrasse – taught him that “to write about the sacred aspect (of sex), it was necessary to understand why it had been so debased”.

The fact that the story of Sônia C.M. was mentioned in the penultimate book of the Brazilian author was a great help.

“A helping hand made Entre as Fronteiras into the success it became,” admits Brasil.

Highs and lows

The book, despite being a journal, avoids the monotony of a purely chronological narrative. It is reminiscent of a film screenplay, with frequent flashbacks.

The reader meets a young woman who crosses the forbidden “frontier” at a São Paulo nightclub and follows her from her first three months as a prostitute in Brazil to her seven years in the profession in Italy and in Switzerland.

“Entre as Fronteiras tells the story of my life through a blend of reality and fiction,” explained Sônia C.M., who says she had good reason for doing this.

“There’s a space I keep just for myself. I know where the fiction ends and the reality starts,” she told swissinfo. “I need to keep a sacred space for my own existence… for my own sanity.”

She claims that delving into the past was very tough. Writing was a great liberation though, helping her express her emotions.

When she worked as a prostitute, she put her body on display, hiding her feelings and the truth about herself.

“Nowadays, there’s no hiding behind a mask,” she added. “When I’m facing a journalist or an audience, I feel more naked than when I was working”.

“Black Cloud”

The author’s avowed purpose is to help other people. “If I had read a book like mine 14 years ago, I would have known exactly what I was letting myself in for,” she said.

Sônia C.M. sees her past as a “black cloud”, which she views with a mixture of affection and hatred.

“I am what I am today because I experienced the glamour of Europe and saw beautiful and fantastic things,” she admits. “But I also saw the seamy side of Europe, all the human squalor.”

Today, Brasil keeps a low profile. She still has to face frequent scornful glances from those around her, and her past has left deep scars.

“When you decide to sell your body, you see another side of humanity – people prepared to pay for sex,” she told swissinfo. “You get to know the mean streak in human nature.”

“You can’t escape unscathed, because the wound is always there. A little bit of that innocence, that confidence in people is lost.”

swissinfo, J. Gabriel Barbosa

Sônia C.M., aged 38, was born in the north of the Brazilian state of Paraná.

She now lives near Tortona in Italy’s Piedmont region with her partner and an 18-year-old son.

Entre as Fronteiras sold 2,000 copies, while its Italian translation was more successful, selling 3,000.

In November, the author will publish O Jardim das Cerejas (The Cherry Garden), which analyses Europeans from a foreign woman’s standpoint.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR