Book review: Paulo Coehlo’s “Aleph”

Paulo Coelho’s Aleph is not just a novel – but also a guidebook on how to live life in the present.

Coelho is the best-selling, beloved Brazilian novelist of The Alchemist and, like that book, Aleph is about a spiritual journey. The main character – a best-selling, beloved Brazilian novelist – is going through a mid-life crisis when he spontaneously decides to travel through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to meet his fans.

While on the trip, a 21-year-old woman named Hilal insists on traveling with him. Although he is turned off by her aggressive behavior, he finds peace when he experiences an “aleph” – “the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time” – and sees scenes from his past lives.

They soon realize they’ve experienced the same thing. “The great Aleph,” the narrator tells Hilal, “occurs when two or more people with a very strong affinity happen to find themselves in the same Aleph.”

Now they must figure out their shared connection. They find the mystery frustrating, since Hilal is very stubborn and Paulo is very married.

The book, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, is a quick read that has an intriguing twist about Paulo’s actions to Hilal in a past life. It is also filled with life-affirming metaphors, such as the mode of transportation: “Life is the train, not the station.”

Whether you love the book depends on your view on life. Some readers, such as those who follow Eckhart Tolle, will enjoy the passages in the book about living in the present and forgiving yourself and others. But other readers may find the book – with its touchy-feely New Age philosophies and talk of reincarnation – not for them.

More about Paulo Coelho:

• Biography.com has an interesting article on Coelho.

• Coelho discussed his secrets to reaching fans on social media to The Wall Street Journal.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

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