Aleph is an autobiographical book relating Paulo’s experiences while traveling on a book tour through the Trans-siberian railroad with a 21-year old girl he used to know 500 years ago, in one of his past lives. This book is touching and beautiful in many ways, and embellished in others, like many of Coelho’s other works.
But what I really love about this author’s work is its readability. Looking back, I think I’ve read most of his novels in one sitting. This book was no different. I started reading it at 4pm yesterday and finished it at 9pm, because it was just that entertaining. It didn’t feel like 5 hours, either, but like minutes. I didn’t grow bored, or hungry, or tired, and that says something about the author’s skill in engaging readers.
The theme of this book can be divided into two. The first is the ALEPH, which supposedly is a conjunction in the time-space continuum where all the events of the world (past, present and future) are taking place at the same time in a different dimension. When you access the ALEPH, you can also go back in time and visit your past lives.
When Paulo meets Hilal, a twenty-one year old girl living in Russia who insists on joining him on his book tour–to the point where she won’t take no for an answer–he at first has no inkling that this was one of the eight girls he had committed a terrible crime against in one of his past lives during the Spanish Inquisition. It is only when they both access the ALEPH through a fortuitous encounter that he realizes what is going on.
As Paulo fulfills his lifelong dream of discovering Russia through traveling the 9,288 km of the Trans-siberian railroad, he also grapples with feelings of guilt and shame that he has carried over from this past life, while Hilal struggles with feelings of unrequited love and self-hatred.
This leads me to the second theme of this book: Forgiveness. Not just of others, but of oneself. To forgive and move on is essential in the path of spiritual development, but when you have done such horrible things it isn’t that easy. It’s not an automatic process, but an organic one. I find that the way Coelho handled this theme was both beautiful, touching and nostalgic.
Obviously I don’t know whether everything he wrote is true. It is my perception that he embellishes, but all writers do. Fiction is embellished life. But whether what he wrote was true or not, it doesn’t matter. This is a captivating story rife with Coelho’s standard magical realism that will please both fans and first-time readers alike.