by Paulo Coelho

ISBN: 978-0-307-70018-6

Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

“. . . sooner or later, we will realize that we are all part of something, even if we can’t understand rationally what that something is.”

The book, Aleph, came to me through a snowstorm.

On our family March Break ski trip to Whistler/Blackcomb, it snowed 168 cm in 5 days. I am a competent skier on groomed eastern Canada snow, but the deep, heavy, wet western “powder” had me flummoxed. While my family—much more skilled skiers than I—frolicked on the mountain, I spent four days reading, writing, relaxing and exploring Whistler village. I wandered into The Oracle (not just a store . . . an experience) and browsed through the books on the shelf. When I saw Paulo Coelho‘s name on the book spine, I knew I had found my holiday reading.

I believe that books come to us when we need them, and I believe Aleph and I met at exactly the time we were supposed to. If you like that idea, keep reading. If you think it’s a bunch of hokum, stop now, because Aleph will surely test your patience.

In 2006, Paulo Coelho, the real person, suffered a crisis of faith. Conversations with his spiritual mentor, whom we know only as J., lead Coelho to embark on a 4-month spiritual journey.

“You’re not here anymore. You’ve got to leave in order to return to the present.”

The book is a fictionalized version of his real journey from the London Book Fair, to a series of book signings in various European countries, and finally to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Coelho, accompanied by publishing staff, his translator, and a mysterious woman named Hilal, travel by train 9,288 kilometers from Moscow to Vladivostok. Along the way he spends an evening with a shaman, practises aikido, and experiences, through the green eyes of Hilal, the Aleph, described as “the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time,” where sentences are “perfectly understood, even when left unspoken,” and where “time and space are eternal and always present.” His experiences shake him out of the routine that prevented him from feeling the Divine Energy around him. His experiences churn up the forgiveness he seeks for past transgressions.

Like his previous well-loved work, The Alchemist, this book serves up bulletin board-worthy life wisdom quotes:

“Travel is never a matter of money but of courage.”

“Life is the train, not the station.”

“Don’t think about what you’ll tell people afterward. The time is here and now. Make the most of it.”

“. . . all we achieve by exacting revenge is to make ourselves the equals of our enemies, whereas by forgiving we show wisdom and intelligence.”

“If you want to see a rainbow you have to learn to like the rain.”

When Coelho, the real person, was living that journey on the train, he did not think he would write about it. “Even if I wanted to, how could I describe the Aleph?” he wrote. His story included clairvoyance, travel to past lives, and other mind-stretching events.

People uncomfortable with those ideas can take comfort in the inscription at the front of the book: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously.” For the rest of us, we can puzzle over what Coelho wrote in a @paulocoelho Twitter post: “The difference between reality and fiction:  fiction has to make sense.”

When I read this book by the fireside in my Whistler chalet, I did not think I would write about it. “Even if I wanted to, how could I describe Aleph?” I wondered.

The lines between fiction and reality blur so intricately with this story, it’s as difficult to hold as water in the hand. But I will say this: “. . . sooner or later, we will realize that we are all part of something, even if we can’t understand rationally what that something is.” Look in Aleph for the realities you need in your life right now—the insights, the wisdom—and if something doesn’t feel right, call it fiction and move on.

Listen to Paulo Coelho talk about his Aleph journey at:

Arlene Somerton Smith


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on July 18, 2012, in Books I bought, Fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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