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Paulo Coelho's fable of spiritual self-discovery has touched readers in several languages.
— Amanda Schilling
In his most personal novel to date, internationally bestselling author Paulo Coelho returns with a remarkable journey of self-discovery. Like the main character in his much-beloved The Alchemist, Paulo is facing a grave crisis of faith. As he seeks a path of spiritual renewal and growth, his only real option is to begin again—to travel, to experiment, to reconnect with people and the landscapes around ...
In his most personal novel to date, internationally bestselling author Paulo Coelho returns with a remarkable journey of self-discovery. Like the main character in his much-beloved The Alchemist, Paulo is facing a grave crisis of faith. As he seeks a path of spiritual renewal and growth, his only real option is to begin again—to travel, to experiment, to reconnect with people and the landscapes around him.
Setting off to Africa, and then to Europe and Asia via the Trans-Siberian railroad, he initiates a journey to revitalize his energy and passion. Even so, he never expects to meet Hilal. A gifted young violinist, she is the woman Paulo loved five hundred years before—and the woman he betrayed in an act of cowardice so far-reaching that it prevents him from finding real happiness in this life. Together they will initiate a mystical voyage through time and space, traveling a path that teaches love, forgiveness, and the courage to overcome life’s inevitable challenges. Beautiful and inspiring, Aleph invites us to consider the meaning of our own personal journeys.
Paulo Coelho's fable of spiritual self-discovery has touched readers in several languages.
— Amanda Schilling
“It’s time for American readers to set out on a journey of discovery that will lead them to the works of this exceptional writer.” —USA Today
“[Coelho’s] books have had a life-enhancing effect on millions of people.” —The Times (London)
“Spiritualists and wanderlusts will eagerly devour The Alchemist author’s fiery diatribes about love, fear, and the search for all things meaningful.” —The Washington Post
“Aleph is a book written by the soul, and for the soul. At once tender and fiercely courageous, it challenges you with an embrace while seducing you with a discerning blade that points directly at the heart of what matters most in life and death. And when you have finished the last word on the last page, even if your logical mind doesn’t completely understand all that you’ve read, your eternal spirit will be dancing with joy.” —Cecilia Samartin, author of Broken Paradise
“Vivid, captivating. . . . So engaging that readers will not want to put it down for even a fraction of a second. As the author sets out on his journey, the reader gets the sense that, he too, is embarking on the same voyage.” —The International Herald Tribune
“[A] chimerical tale. . . . There’s no better author to serve such a work than Coelho.” —Publishers Weekly
“Enigmatic. . . . An illuminating book.” —The National
“Borges set the standard that Coelho capably upholds. . . . Coelho the writer is both discerning and revealing of Coelho the protagonist, whose enthusiasms we share.” —The Washington Independent Review
The latest spirituality-lite novel from Coelho (The Winner Stands Alone, 2009, etc.).
The narrative focuses on a character named Paulo who has had a wildly successful novel (The Alchemist, 1993) and who is embarking on a book-signing binge on the Trans-Siberian railway, stopping at various spots from Moscow to Vladivostock. Paulo, it seems, is in the midst of a spiritual crisis, for life has lost its savor. His spiritual guru, cryptically named J., advises him to reconnect to his life by getting into the present moment, a mystic space called the Aleph. Paulo agrees, for after all he claims that, "To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life"—as though any good could come out ofthatsort of reflective activity. Paulo's wife is all in favor of having him take this journey—or perhaps she's interested merely in getting him out of the house for a while. Just before the journey begins, Paulo meets Hilal, a violinist who can bring him to tears with the beauty of her playing. She seems familiar to Paulo, however, and it turns out that he's known her before—roughly 500 years before, when he had been a monk and she had come before the Inquisition for having had sexual relations with Satan. They've both been given another opportunity together in the present so Paulo can make amends, both to Hilal and to several other women he'd mistreated in cosmic time. While he finds himself sexually attracted to Hilal, he remains technically chaste—well, kind of, though it's possible his wife might not see it that way.
For readers who admire books filled with goofy yet endearing spiritual clichés such as, "Death is just a door into another dimension."
“We can never wound the soul, just as we can never wound God, but we can become imprisoned by our memories, and that makes our lives wretched even when we have everything we need in order to be happy. If only we could be entirely here, as if we had just woken up on planet Earth and found ourselves inside a golden temple, but we can’t.”
“I don’t see why I should forgive the man I love. Or perhaps only for one thing, for never having heard those same words on his lips.” A smell of incense begins to waft toward us. The priests are coming in for morning prayers.
“Forget who you are now and go to the place where the person you always were is waiting. There you will find the right words, and then you can forgive me.”
Hilal seeks inspiration in the gilded walls, the pillars, the people entering the church at this early hour, the fl ames of the lit candles. She closes her eyes, possibly following my suggestion and imagining some music.
“You won’t believe this, but I think I can see a girl, a girl who isn’t here anymore but who wants to come back . . .”
I ask her to listen to what the girl has to say.
“The girl forgives you, not because she has become a saint but because she can no longer bear to carry this burden of hatred. Hating is very wearisome. I don’t know if something is changing in Heaven or on Earth, or if my soul is being damned or saved, but I feel utterly exhausted, and only now do I understand why. I forgive the man who tried to destroy me when I was ten years old. He knew what he was doing, and I did not. But I felt that it was my fault, and I hated him and myself. I hated everyone who came near me, but now my soul is being set free.”
This isn’t what I was expecting.
“Forgive everything and everyone, but forgive me, too,”
I ask her. “Include me in your forgiveness.”
“I forgive everything and everyone, including you, even though I don’t know what crime you have committed. I forgive you because I love you and because you don’t love me. I forgive you because you help me to stay close to my Devil, even though I haven’t thought of him for years. I forgive you because you reject me and my powers are wasted, and I forgive you because you don’t understand who I am or what I’m doing here. I forgive you and the Devil who touched my body before I even knew what life was about. He touched my body but distorted my soul.”
She puts her hands together in prayer. I would have liked her forgiveness to have been exclusively for me, but Hilal is redeeming her whole world, and perhaps that is better. Her body starts to tremble. Her eyes fill with tears.
“Must it be here, in a church? Let’s go outside into the open air. Please!”
“No, it has to be in a church. One day we’ll do the same thing outside, but today it has to be in a church. Please, forgive me.”
She closes her eyes and holds her hands aloft. A woman coming into the church sees this gesture and shakes her head disapprovingly. We are in a sacred place; the rituals are different here, and we should respect the traditions. I pretend not to notice, and feel relieved because Hilal, I realize, is talking with the Spirit who dictates prayers and the true laws, and nothing in the world will distract her now.
“I free myself from hatred through forgiveness and love. I understand that suffering, when it cannot be avoided, is here to help me on my way to glory. I understand that everything is connected, that all roads meet, and that all rivers flow into the same sea. That is why I am, at this moment, an instrument of forgiveness, forgiveness for crimes that were committed; one crime I know about, the other I do not.”
Yes, a spirit was talking to her. I knew that spirit and that prayer, which I had learned many years ago in Brazil. It was spoken by a little boy then, not a girl. But Hilal was repeating the words that were in the Cosmos, waiting to be used when necessary.
Hilal is speaking softly, but the acoustics in the church are so perfect that everything she says seems to reach every corner.
“I forgive the tears I was made to shed,
I forgive the pain and the disappointments,
I forgive the betrayals and the lies,
I forgive the slanders and intrigues,
I forgive the hatred and the persecution,
I forgive the blows that hurt me,
I forgive the wrecked dreams,
I forgive the stillborn hopes,
I forgive the hostility and jealousy,
I forgive the indifference and ill will,
I forgive the injustice carried out in the name of justice,
I forgive the anger and the cruelty,
I forgive the neglect and the contempt,
I forgive the world and all its evils.”
She lowers her arms, opens her eyes, and puts her hands to her face. I go over to embrace her, but she stops me with a gesture.
“I haven’t finished yet.”
She closes her eyes again and raises her face heavenward.
“I also forgive myself. May the misfortunes of the past no longer weigh on my heart. Instead of pain and resentment, I choose understanding and compassion. Instead of rebellion, I choose the music from my violin. Instead of grief, I choose forgetting. Instead of vengeance, I choose victory.
“I will be capable of loving, regardless of whether I am loved in return,
Of giving, even when I have nothing,
Of working happily, even in the midst of difficulties,
Of holding out my hand, even when utterly alone and abandoned,
Of drying my tears, even while I weep,
Of believing, even when no one believes in me.”
She opens her eyes, places her hands on my head, and says with an authority that comes from on high, “So it is. So it will be.”
From the Hardcover edition.
1. Aleph is a novel full of rituals, starting with Paulo and J.’s opening invocation around the sacred oak. However, Paulo’s reaction to them varies wildly; sometimes they frustrate him (the oak), sometimes he embraces them (the shaman’s midnight chant on the edges of Lake Baikal), and other times he criticizes them for being empty (Hilal’s offering at the church in Novosibirsk). Why do you think this is? Do you think this has to do with the rituals themselves or is Coelho trying to express something deeper about the nature and purpose of ritual? What value can ritual have in your own life?
2. During his initial argument with J., Paulo says: “We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of” [p. 9]. Do you agree? Why do you think J. prescribes travel as a way for Paulo to better focus on the present instead of his past or future?
3. While he’s waiting for a sign that he should embark on the journey J. suggests, Paulo thinks about the nature of tragedy. “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?” [p. 15]. Many of Aleph’s characters are dealing with extreme personal tragedy, from Hilal and her history of sexual abuse to Yao and the death of his wife. Do their experiences and struggles to move forward support or contradict Paulo’s statements?
4. Paulo frequently refers to Chinese bamboo after reading an article about its growth process: “Once the seed has been sown, you see nothing for about five years, apart from a tiny shoot. All the growth takes place underground, where a complex root system reaching upward and outward is being established. Then, at the end of the fifth year, the bamboo suddenly shoots up to a height of twenty-five meters” [p. 22]. How does this function as an important metaphor for spiritual growth? What do you think are the best ways to build a “complex root system” of your own?
5. Coelho writes, “To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life” and offers examples of people who have experienced revelations in various ways [p. 62]. Do you agree? What people or writings are you familiar with that support (or disprove) his point of view?
6. In “The Aleph,” Borges’s narrator asks, “How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: . . . one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south.” How does Coelho attempt to explain the Aleph? Why do you think Coelho has Paulo and Hilal discover it on a train car? Do you think its location has a larger significance for the story?
7. What images, memories, and emotions most powerfully capture the mystery and the magic of the Aleph that Paulo and Hilal experience on the train [pp. 73–75]? How do they affect them each as individuals? In what ways does it change and deepen their relationship?
8. What role does Yao serve in Paulo’s quest? Are there similarities between Yao, Paulo, and the answers they seek? What does each learn from the other?
9. When Yao suggests that Paulo beg for money with him, he explains, “Some Zen Buddhist monks in Japan told me about takuhatsu, the begging pilgrimage. . . . This is because, according to Zen philosophy, the giver, the beggar, and the alms money itself all form part of an important chain of equilibrium. The person doing the begging does so because he’s needy, but the person doing the giving also does so out of need. The alms money serves as a link between those two needs” [pp. 89–90]. How does this relationship apply to the balance of power between Paulo and Hilal? Between Paulo and his readers?
10. The origin of Paulo’s deep-seated sense of guilt comes stunningly to life in his description of the Inquisition and his participation as a priest [pp. 153–167]. What insight does this vignette offer into horrors and injustices committed in the name of religious beliefs? Compare and contrast the religious attitudes here with those portrayed in the present-day sections of Aleph. What do Paulo’s references to the Koran [p. 39], the Bible [pp. 40, 107], Ueshiba, the founder of the Japanese martial art of aikido [pp. 132, 137, and 193], and shamanism [pp. 220–29] demonstrate about human beliefs and aspirations across cultures and time?
11. Discuss the erotic and romantic elements of the encounters between Paulo and Hilal—both real and imagined—leading up to his final gift of roses at the airport. Would you classify theirs as a love story? Why or why not? What different types of love does Coelho explore?
12. Were you familiar with the concept of past lives before reading Aleph? Is it necessary to believe in past lives to grasp the book’s message and meaning?
13. What do you think Coelho means when he writes, “Life is the train, not the station” [p. 112]? What about when he says, “What we call ‘life’ is a train with many carriages. Sometimes we’re in one, sometimes we’re in another, and sometimes we cross between them, when we dream or allow ourselves to be swept away by the extraordinary” [p. 117–118].
Posted September 28, 2011
Reading Paulo's book is such a magical experience. This book will truly open doors to self-discovery that you didn't know existed. Many people around the world can relate with how Paulo felt at the beginning of this book: successful but unhappy, trapped in routine and the vice of solitude, disconnected from inspiration and the Divine.
From this starting point, Paulo takes a life-changing journey across the trans-Siberian railway and discovers a magic that can only be described the moment you finish reading this wonderful book. The "aleph" is a moment in which all time and space is condensed into singularity, what some would call presence, and everyone must learn to find this magical space - ALEPH holds the key to that doorway.
ALEPH is one of my favorite books of all time. Some quotes:
"Go and reconquer your kingdom, which has grown corrupted by routine."
"To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life."
"Travel is never a matter of money but of courage."
"I remember the many occasions on which help has come from precisely those people whom I though had nothing to add to my life."
"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."
"Hell is when we look back during that fraction of a second [at the end of life] and know that we wasted an opportunity to dignify the miracle of life. Paradise is being able to say at that moment: I made some mistakes but I wasn't a coward. I lived my life and did what I had to do."
"That is what marks out the warrior: the knowledge that willpower and courage are not the same things. Courage can attract fear and adulation, but willpower requires patience and commitment."
"When a sense of dissatisfaction persists, that means it was placed there by God for one reason only: you need to change everything and move forward."
"No life is complete without a touch of madness..."
One of Paulo's other books, The Alchemist (which has sold over 65 million copies worldwide), changed my life. With ALEPH, he has done it again.
ALEPH is already #1 around the world and deservedly so. Paulo writes with honesty, insight, and that which matters most: love.
-- Review by Brendon Burchard, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, "The Millionaire Messenger" and "Life's Golden Ticket."
18 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 11, 2011
Although an international acclaimed author, Paulo faces a spiritual crisis. He tells his Tradition guide J. that he believes his journeys are over as he can no longer grow. J. suggests he get out on a rejuvenation tour to meet people that will lead him to the Aleph where time is a constant sameness and force him away from dwelling on his previous lives. Reluctantly at first he visits six countries which energize Paulo for the first time in awhile.
Two months into his pilgrimage, Paulo is scheduled to ride the Trans-Siberian railway between Moscow to Vladivostok; making stops on his book tour of Russia. At his hotel in Moscow, Hilel the violinist introduces herself to him before leaving. The next day at his book singing, she is back. Paulo denies knowing who she is but both know he is lying. During the Inquisition in previous lives, they shared the Aleph, but he cowardly betrayed her. He believes his actions towards her are why he cannot grow anymore. As they reconnect, each knows they need to forgive before they can bravely embrace their love and move closer to happiness in and out of the mystical Aleph.
Aleph is not an easy read as the protagonist, the woman he loves in their different lives and his guide tends to use metaphoric transcendentalist talk. The key cast is fully developed in the present arc and so are the glimpses into their past lives especially the inquisition incident. Those readers who appreciate something radically different will enjoy the journeys of Paulo and Hilel to try to cleanse their past if they want a happy future; but in 2006 Russia history seems on the verge of repeating what happened five centuries ago.
7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2012
This is so well written that one cannot tell if Paulo has created a fictional masterpiece or related a true biographical out-of-world experience. For those of us who believe in a spiritual life beyond our three dimensional physically present world, Aleph is a remarkably enlightening journey in growth.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2011
This book takes you on a fantastic journey that you never want to end - loved every minute of this book - full of beautiful thoughts and experiences
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 17, 2011
Posted December 12, 2012
Learned some things on the way of reading this book. Nothing special but for a strong open minded spiritualist kind of person they will enjoy it very much. The funny thing about this book is it is very in depth with the authors true personality and how he would act in real life and it partially made me not like Paulo as much as I did before I read the book haha. It wasnt a bad thing it just shows what he thinks in a very real, raw way and some things he said or wanted to say I disagreed with..
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2012
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Posted November 1, 2012
I highlighted a good amount of sections that I'd like to keep with me and use in my life in order to stay positive. Also, some parts are just really interesting bits of cultures.
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Posted September 1, 2012
Posted February 8, 2012
This book is interesting for someone who is looking for that metaphysical perspective of life. It missed many components to keep me reading it. It actually took me almost a month to finish 200 pages because it just didn't keep me excited. I love Paulo Coelho, but this book did not meet my expectations.
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Posted February 21, 2014
Posted December 13, 2013
Were i not already a great fan of coelho and had i not read his other works ... i consider him a poor writer with little to say. Fortunately i have read his work before and so will continue to be a fsn.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2013
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