Books: Aleph by Paulo Coelho

Title: Aleph (published O Aleph in Brazil)

Author: Paulo Coelho

Book Summary: “In his most personal novel to date, internationally best-selling author Paulo Coelho returns with a remarkable journey of self-discovery. Like the main character in his much-beloved novel The Alchemist, Paulo is facing a grave crisis of faith…”

In this autobiographical account, Paulo writes about the journey he undertook between March and July 2006. It begins with him confronting his Master about his spiritual stagnation; Paulo experiences the dullness of ritual and routine. The rest of the novel is simply a retelling of how he followed his master’s advice: “You’ve got to leave in order to return to the present.”

In his journey via the Trans-Siberian Railway, he met a woman, Hilal, whom he had loved and betrayed five hundred years before. She eventually joins the journey, and helps Paulo Coelho in a series of personal experiences. It is with her, on a train, that Paulo first experiences the Aleph. Paulo is also goes through this journey with Yao, his translator, who offered a wisdom of his own.

It is, in the end, a journey of life, forgiveness and love.

Why should you read this?

Paulo Coelho proved once again that he is able to master words with such honesty and brilliance as to change a person’s life, even for just a moment. It reads in such a way that what I used to perceive as impossible becomes possible to me -the fictional in the real world.

The beautiful lines scattered throughout his novel produces emotional responses and new lines of thought. His characters, even through the eyes of his narrative, move in clear pictures and speaks in rhythms that make the novel more vivid and relatable. The experience of the Aleph, particularly, and his recollections of one of his previous incarnations is piercing in its clarity.

His message is simple, yet delivered so powerfully that it becomes less like a worn saying. Taking us along with his journey makes us realize the same things that he, or other characters, realized or did not realize. The answer to the questions we face is love and forgiveness, and to get to both a certain kind of courage and forgiveness is needed.  There are different kinds of love, and several ways to express it.

This is a novel for those who believe that a crisis of faith could be overcome and that certain hurts are best left alone or braved. This is for those who can swallow ideas like reincarnation and the Aleph itself, for those who want an adventure.

I recommend this for people who have read a novel by Paulo Coelho. I have read The Alchemist beforehand, and I think it contributed to my appreciation of Aleph. (For one thing, I am always wary of books that are in first point-of-view; my confidence in Coelho’s writing and excitement for his message [and the fact that the book was a gift from my brother], both based on my impression from The Alchemist, carried me forward.)

Quotes

Past and future exist only in our memory. The present moment, though, is outside of time, it’s Eternity. … It isn’t what you did in the past that will affect the present. It’s what you do in the present that will redeem the past and thereby change the future (10).

To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life (62).

Anyone who knows God cannot describe Him. Anyone who can describe God does not know Him (112).

I am not a foreigner, because I haven’t been praying to return safely home. …I am not a foreigner, because we are all travelling, we are all full of the same questions. …I am not a foreigner, because, when I asked, I received (245-6).

The Aleph

In Coelho’s book, the Aleph is a prominent concept. He describes it himself.

…in the magical Tradition, it [the Aleph] presents itself in one of two ways. The first is a point in the Universe that contains all other points, present and past, large and small. You normally come across it by chance, as we did on the train. For this to happen, the person, or persons, has to be on the actual place where the Aleph exists. We call that a small Aleph. (96)

And,

The great Aleph occurs when two or more people with a very strong affinity happen to find themselves in the small Aleph. Their two different energies complete each other and provoke a chain reaction.

It is, simply put, the place where everything (time and space, love, life) is one.

The Aleph also has mathematical and Hebraic significance, as mentioned in the book.

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