Aleph – Paulo Coelho
Upon finding himself stuck on his spiritual journey, a famous Brazilian writer, knowing that his soul connects with movement, fills his life with a lengthy and erratic schedule of publicity events around Europe. The biggest of these commitments is traveling the 9,288 kilometers along the trans-Siberian railway in Russia, a trip of numerous stops and even more weeks that will test the patience, endurance, and stability of everyone in his traveling party. Shortly before leaving, his group of companions is joined by a strange woman, Hilal, who insists that she must travel with them because his soul is calling to hers. Without understanding what she means, the writer agrees to have her join the party. As they spend increasingly more time together, the writer begins to realize that she is a direct connection to one of his past lives, and to an event in particular that has haunted him through all his incarnations since it happened. Although some answers only lead to more questions, it seems as though his soul has finally found the impetus needed to overcome the obstacles in his spiritual path as he seeks to discover his past while also protecting Hilal in the present.
“Aleph” by Paulo Coelho is a story of magic, time travel, reincarnation, and the patterns of behavior, choice, and life that persist through subsequent incarnations. Although not advertised as such, “Aleph” is a roughly autobiographical account of Coelho’s travels during the same time period in which the story is set. This indistinction allows the story to be read as real without logic entirely taking over and denying certain aspects of the account as impossible. As always, Coelho finds a way to describe in simple yet stunning language the complexities of both spiritual disillusionment and awakening, giving voice to those feelings that evade expression due to an inability to capture and convey the essence of it. The physical journey of traveling through Russia by train takes on a secondary importance in the story, serving as more of a metaphor for spiritual growth than as the main element around which the story is told. The multifaceted experience of travel validates the various struggles and accomplishments that often come with encountering the unfamiliar, humbly offering hope and guidance for other travelers.
I was more inclined to interpret “Aleph” as a work of fiction rather than an actual recounting of his travel experiences, but it was still a classic Coelho novel. In terms of his other work, I would say it falls somewhere between the best stories I’ve read by him and the somewhat-less-than-inspiring stories I’ve read by him. I can always find something to relate to in his stories, and I appreciate his emphasis on the journey – life is constantly changing and we need to grow with it rather than strive for perfection. Classic Coelho. If you’re only going to read one book by him, then I probably wouldn’t recommend this one, but if you’re going to read multiple of his works, then this one could certainly be included.