Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: "Aleph" by Paulo Coehlo

Book: Aleph
Author: Paulo Coehlo
Publisher: HarperCollins

I’m exaggerating. If we seek something, that same thing is seeking us.
Nevertheless, you have to be prepared for everything. At this point, I make the decision I’ve been needing to make: even if I find nothing on this train journey, I will carry on, because I’ve known since that moment of realization in the hotel in London that although my roots are ready, my soul has been slowly dying from something very hard to detect and even harder to cure.
Routine has nothing to do with repetition. To become really good at anything, you have to practise and repeat, practise and repeat, practise and repeat, until the technique becomes intuitive. I learned this when I was a child, in a small town in the interior of Brazil, where my family used to spend the summer holidays. I was fascinated by the work of a blacksmith who lived nearby. I would sit, for what seemed like eternity, watching his hammer rise and fall on the red-hot steel, scattering sparks all around, like fireworks. Once he said to me:
‘You’ll probably think I’m doing the same thing over and over, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Well, you’re wrong. Each time I bring the hammer down, the intensity of the blow is different. Sometimes it’s harder, sometimes it’s softer. But I only learned that after I’d been repeating the same gesture for many years, until the moment came when I didn’t have to think, I simply let my hand guide my work.’
            I’ve never forgotten those words.

It begins with a confession of one’s repetitive failed attempts to be perpetually connected to one’s soul. It traverses along symbols, signs, intuition and adventure. It ends with a rendezvous with one’s inner self, one’s own soul. Like Paulo’s international bestseller, “The Alchemist”, his newly published “Aleph” has a journey within and without oneself for its salient feature, with the mere difference that in this recent work of his, the author presents himself as the protagonist. This is not to say that the “Aleph” has nothing new or worst still, nothing at all to offer to its readers as far as its story-line is concerned. Being a hundred-percent autobiographical account of the author’s journey across the Trans-Siberian Railway, which passes through seven different time zones and is one of the longest railway networks in the world, the book is marked with even the slightest detail related to the train ride, ranging from the constant lurching of the vehicle and the racket caused by the wheels rubbing against the rails, to the bothersome occasions of a sleep disrupted by the tumultuous halts and departures coupled with the constant jerks, which are a matter of common occurrence for a train-traveller. These and all other elaborate paragraphs, nonetheless, fail to bore the reader, let alone dissuade him/her to put the book down for even a fraction of a second. On the other hand, they only add to the reader’s already-growing interest for the 300-page memoir.  As the author sets out, a curious reader might as well intend to embark on such a journey himself, only to find later than there is no such need, for the reader already accompanies the author on the ride, and the journey thus under-taken by the latter is, in effect, the former’s too.  
            Having said this, one needs be reminded that this journey is not without a purpose, and to understand fully ( or even partially ) the author’s primary objective which underlies this decision of his. is an ardous exercise in itself, for, like Paulo’s other literary masterpieces, the “Aleph” is also inundated by philosophical and spiritual ideas which are often difficult to comprehend, despite the simplicity of words used to describe them.

1 comment:

  1. Paulo Coehlo is a modern day Sufi and his writings are typically classic, the quotes narrated about repetition are excellent.