Paulo Coelho’s autobiographical novel, Aleph, is about the famous writer’s spiritual-seeking journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. During the way, he experiences an ephiphany, which is facilitated by the Aleph — “the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time.”
In plot terms, the Aleph allows Paulo to re-experience his betrayal of a loved one in a previous life 500 years ago. By confronting his past wrongdoing, the author makes it possible to forgive himself and be forgiven by the woman he betrayed. And like most journeys, Paulo’s is not so much about the destination as all the experiences with people along the way. Some of my favorite moments in the book included people who made only brief appearances.
Aleph is metaphysical reading — not my usual fare. Yet I enjoyed the book, from the writing, to the characters, to the conflicts. In a way, I wish this story wasn’t “one hundred percent” “the whole experiences” of Paulo Coelho. Reincarnation is difficult to grasp as a fact; however, as a metaphor, the notion of past lives is a powerful one.
All in all, Aleph is an enjoyable book. I didn’t experience any epiphanies of my own, but I liked the story and found the following passages especially striking:
And that is my great fear at the moment, that some tragedy will occur. Tragedy always brings about radical change in our lives, a change that is associated with the same principle: loss. When faced by any loss, there’s no point in trying to recover what has been; it’s best to take advantage of the large space that opens up before us and fill it with something new. In theory, every loss is for our own good; in practice, though, that is when we question the existence of God and ask ourselves: What did I do to deserve this?
…all we achieve by exacting revenge is to make ourselves the equals of our enemies, whereas by forgiving we show wisdom and intelligence. Apart from monks in the Himalyas and saints in the deserts, I think we all have these vengeful feelings because they’re an essential part of the human condition. We shouldn’t judge ourselves too harshly.[The translator] pours everyone vodka and talks about how conflicts are resolved in aikido. “It’s not really fighting. What we aim to do is calm the spirit and get in touch with the source from which everything comes, removing any trace of malice or egotism. If you spend too much time trying to find out what is good or bad about someone else, you’ll forget your own soul and end up exhausted and defeated by the energy you have wasted in judging others.”
“…don’t be intimidated by other people’s opinions. Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and do what you really want to do. Seek out other people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes and who, therefore, do make mistakes. Because of that, their work isn’t recognized, but they are precisely the kind of people who change the world and, after many mistakes, do something that will transform their own community completely.”