I’m never sure what to expect with Paulo Coelho. Some of his books I’ve really enjoyed like “Veronika Decides to Die” and “11 Minutes“, others I hated like “The Valkyries”.
The first book I read by Paulo Coelho was “The Alchemist” or rather “L’alchemiste” as I read it in French, the book was a gift and a bestseller in France back in the nineties. It whetted my appetite for more. The writing isn’t great but he has some interesting ideas.
“Aleph” suggests to me the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph is also a novel by Borges that I haven’t read. The Aleph: “the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time.” This novel has a strong autobiographical element and requires a suspension of disbelief as it involves amongst other things clairvoyance and travelling back in time aided by a shaman on the shores of Lake Baikal. Paulo is bored with his life: “my soul has been slowly dying from something hard to detect and even harder to cure. Routine.” the kind of ennui, he wrote about in The Winner Stands Alone. “Recently, though, I seem to be spending my life in airports and hotels, and any sense of adventure has given way to a profound tedium.” Acting on a long cherished dream he decides to cross the whole of Russia on a train ending up at the Pacific Ocean. Paulo sets off across Russia on the 9,288 km Trans Siberian Railway, something he seems to regret as soon as the train pulls out of Moscow. “Life is the train not the station.” He is searching for his “Aleph” a kind of Mojo that helps him travel back in time. There is a young Turkish woman, Hilal (in Turkish her name means new moon) , just 21 but “looks older”, who pushes her way into the author’s entourage following her “Aleph”. Paulo, who at the time is 59, is claiming she forced her attentions onto him, but the big age gap is rather creepy, also Paulo believes he wronged her in a previous life, where he was a Dominican monk, who did nothing to prevent her being tortured and burned as a witch by the Inquisition. Also travelling with Paulo is Yao, his translator, an interesting character, born in China, whose parents fled to Brazil during the Chinese Civil War and is now a retired language teacher from the University of Moscow. This novel lacks the allure of The Alchemist or The Pilgrimage and is not one of Paulo Coelho’s better novels in my opinion.
My rating 2 out of 5