Aleph by Paulo CoelhoGuest Reviewer: Natacha Pavlov

Author: Paulo Coelho
Publisher: Vintage (2012)
Number of Pages: 288
How long it took me to read: 4 days
Where I got this book: I checked it out from my local library.
ISBN: 978-0307744579

Like a Moth to a Flame

From the mere two weeks that I was enrolled in my college Arabic course, I recalled that “aleph” is the first letter in the Arabic alphabet. I thought that the story might involve Middle Eastern culture, or at the very least something rather ancient in origin. As I explored what the book was about, I got excited that the topics of reincarnation and past lives are woven into the story—concepts I hadn’t previously encountered in Coelho’s works. Since Aleph also happens to be his most recent work, I liked the idea of reading a current novel with themes that have been a personal fascination as of late.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Travel is never a matter of money but of courage.” (p.11)

4. “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)

3. “You’re the one who’s trapped by time. You refuse to accept that your wife is dead, which is why she’s still here by your side, trying to console you, when, by now, she should be moving on toward an encounter with the Divine Light.” (p.89)

2. “The world is being created and destroyed in this very moment. Whoever you met will reappear, whoever you lost will return.” (p.13)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Never. We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.” (p.117)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“Just a few chapters into the book and I already feel the main character’s spiritual unrest. As he brings up in his discussions with friends, he indeed has all the material comforts anyone could dream of—money, stability, relationships of all kinds—but he still feels something is missing. It can seem spoiled of a successful person to feel this way, especially in light of unreliable economies worldwide and the struggles of so many. However, perhaps it serves to remind me that true happiness and fulfillment are not always linked to material success. It’s something worth remembering.

“On the other hand, I’m identifying with his struggles in that I’ve often felt this urge to “pick up and go” somewhere else, to travel and just get away for a while. While I truly value the benefits and growth that come from traveling, I’ve also realized that it’s often not travel itself that changes me, but what happens within me during my travels. For this reason, I’ve learned that traveling may, at times, be an option, but it won’t necessarily bring about the growth I seek.”

“I am feeling rather confused by the main character’s reaction to Hilal. He seems to know of the past they share, which makes his indifferent attitude towards her odd. I find myself wanting to judge him, and I have to wonder, is it right for me to do so? He believes he knows about some events that occurred to him in a past life; yet I don’t know my own experience(s) outside of the one I’m currently having. What would my reaction be if I had been the one in this character’s shoes? I might want to judge him for a betrayal, yet assuming I believe in past lives, what if I myself had done something similar or worse in a previous life? Indeed then, what kind of person would I be to pass judgment on another’s actions?

“Perhaps this is one of the many reasons I truly enjoy spiritual novels: because our spiritual experiences are varied and open to so many interpretations, just reading about different ones can enlighten us to our own humanity and the kind of people we want to be.”

“Reading Aleph has compelled me to reflect deeply on love. How is love measured? Can it even be measured at all? Different people show love in different ways, so I would think it would be difficult to quantify. It’s easy for us to assume that ‘if someone loved us, they would do…’ but perhaps that isn’t necessarily true either, particularly if there are different kinds of love in this world. In reflecting upon the characters’ spiritual states, it’s easy to see that they aren’t necessarily in the same place. The main character has been actively invested in spiritual matters, while Hilal seems to have just begun discovering the sources of her spiritual traumas. Maybe that’s why she expects certain reactions as proof of love and hasn’t given thought to the fact that there are many ways to show care and love. And what if, in some ways, that in itself didn’t matter? What if love alone is enough, no matter the kind?

“One of Aleph’s most powerful reminders is that once you feel love for someone and although it might change with time—whether by becoming stronger, more tame, or any other variation—once love for someone has taken root in the heart, it never completely disappears.”

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