Paulo Coelho's Aleph

The back cover of the book explains this story's intended meaning in fewer words than I can:

Why the music theme for this page?  

Because Coelho's muse in Aleph,

the young woman named Hilal,

is a musician during the story.

I purchased Paulo Coelho's latest book, Aleph, (HarperCollins 2011) while on a work assignment in Germany in early November of 2011. I purchased an English language copy. The German language version will be published soon I heard.

This book is vintage Coelho, telling a story based on his own experiences rather than someone else's.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I knew I was going to like the book once I got to pages 8-9 and read Coelho's explanation of 'karma' as opportunities for actions to take in the present that redeem the past. Not something you did in the past that handicaps your present as I had always understood it. Much more empowering!

This story is about that sort of karmic action, of course, and it is also about his relationship with a woman he meets on this journey he is on. Of course.

Her name is Hilal, and she is Russian of Turkish ancestry, half his age, and a very accomplished violinist. I liked that Hilal was Turkish, in terms of her origin, because I recently met two Turkish women, both still in college but also working, while on a business trip.

I was very much impressed with their beauty, I am not yet dead, but I was bowled over by their obvious intelligence. They were both making their marks in their chosen fields of study. One is the recipient of a very prestigious international scholarship. 

One told me that when I am ready to come to Turkey to visit the Rumi memorial that I told her I wanted to experience in person, her family will help me make arrangements to get to Kona and back from the airport in Istanbul. Great!  But it will be a while.

Am I imitating Coelho?  The lady making this offer on behalf of her family will not herself be there, so, no. Of course.

This reminds me of something I found interesting in Coelho's book.  At one point he feels what I perceived to be a twinge of guilt over his using this young woman for a purpose that benefits him, but not her. He does his best to make it meaningful for her too, but something about her personality makes that difficult.

Similarly, when I meet people who would be fun to be with, inspiring to be with, or even exciting to be with, I have to ask myself if what I feel is a desire to use that person for my own gratification, or to share with and enrich that person's life because I perceive a need.  If it is simply desire to give me pleasure, I want to stop myself and not act on that desire.  Why? Because it is not an expression of love, and it is certainly not an expression of Love (the love that emanates from the Divine Source).  

Have I sometimes failed in this quest against selfishness?  Sure.  That is why it is called a quest.

So. Let's get back to Coelho's story. Tension builds in the story until the inevitable happens: Coelho finally has a moment alone with Hilal and looks directly into her eyes and has an epiphany of sorts. He sees that they have been entwined in some serious occurrences in a past life. A bad thing happened to her then, Coelho was somehow involved in allowing this bad thing to happen. He needs to obtain her forgiveness for those actions of 500-some years ago!

Coelho's reaction, seeing much deeper than ought to have been the case when simply looking into another person' eyes, rings true to me. I had my own tiny epiphany when saying good bye at a train station in Brussels to a total stranger, an American woman I had spent a little time with in the city prior to our flights. We took the train to the airport together and touched each other for the first time as the train slowed at the end.

Touched? It was just a prolonged but very weak farewell handshake. We were not on the same airline, just leaving at nearly the same time. I looked into her eyes for just a moment and something inside of me fell through a hole in reality.  Here is how I recorded that epiphany back in 1985:

Train slowed, time for goodbyes, weakly clasped hands,

trivial words suitable for generic partings between strangers.

Hands hang limp, words fade, separate destinations to the forefront of attention,

eyes meet inattentively .... My God!

Eternity momentarily reveals itself in those dark orbs,

a mystical light shines without disturbing the dusk all around.

O God, Thou hast heard the needs of my soul,

Thou hast revealed thyself to me and I am whole, I am full, I am Love!

Separating, I know this woman may perhaps never know that through her

I have seen God; I now know that in her, in me, in all, God IS!


Unlike Coelho, I did not sense a connection with this person from any past lives.

Maybe to have that revelation requires belief in past lives, or future ones. I have no such belief, at least not intellectually.

I do have a longing for those things to be true, emotionally, that may be an intuitive belief. At any rate I do not discount anything of this sort as impossible. I do, however, have to remind myself that Coelho is an extremely successful writer of fiction. His fiction is written as if it were non-fiction, of course, but not with the intent to deceive. I believe Coelho weaves his semi-fictional tales to inspire and inform.

On his website there are videos on U-Tube about this very voyage across Siberia by train, doesn't that prove this is factual, not fiction? I had the same type of discussion with a true believer in the inerrancy of the Bible. He had done archaeological work, and had studied under famous archaeologists who had sworn to him that the Bible is an infallible guide to locations of ancient cities and other places of importance like springs and wells, etc. To me, that makes the book akin to good historical fiction, which should always be founded on sound, factual history.

Perhaps the writers believed what they wrote was true. But sincerity of belief does not truth make. (At one point Coelho says as much, with reference to his previous life of 500 years ago.)

But having their places, main historically important characters, distances, and approximate time periods correct does not mean all words written about actions, thoughts, words and motives are true. It only means the words written about people and their motives and thoughts and experiences are plausible.

Just like in Coelho's Aleph, it tells a story set within an undeniably real setting, in this case a train on its way east to Vladivostok from Moscow.

Coelho experiences revelations about a past life on this journey. He believes in the realities of the worlds connected to ours that he describes. He believes in that single experiential point, the "Aleph," where one connects with all of one's pasts and futures. And he believes in the present being useful to redeem the past and change the future. That is what this story is about.

When Coelho experiences these revelations, he is usually in very close contact with Hilal. Close contact, intimate, yes, but not expressly sexual.

Of course that got my attention. It is somewhat akin to the way I have in the past interpreted the power of 'courtly love' "purely"- practiced. Of course in that type of 'courtly love' the actor is ideally in a state of love because of his or her contemplation of the beloved.  Through that almost worshipful  contemplation one senses that we live in a cocoon of all encompassing Love. Physical closeness isn't necessary, but it doesn't hurt either, as long as the focus is on gaining a mutual awareness of Love (which is God, according to many who have thought long and hard about it, including my favorite esctatic poet Rumi, who dared to declare that when one is in a state of Love, one has become both the Lover and the Beloved: some Christian mystics describe this dissolution of the self into a state of Love as becoming One with God).

The focus easily turns from aiding each other to gain Love-awareness to the enjoyment of each other physically. A good outcome from that event is love-awareness, an emanation from Love-awareness. Babies are made this way, and I find it interesting that if conceived by persons enjoying a state of blissful love, perhaps it is their love that makes a bridge between two spheres of reality over which the essence of this new person comes into this world. I find that very romantic.  Of course.  But alas this sort of mutual love-state, even between couples trying to have a child together, is a rare thing.

The historical decoupling of spirit and body, God and human, man and woman, that so typifies some religious traditions, was a huge mistake, denying humans much happiness. Breaking the natural bond between Divine Love and love with its sexual expression was a huge mistake, made as part of the at times brutal and bloody effort to make men in the image of God (making God in the image of the human male) and making woman man's servant (help-'meet' notwithstanding). Coelho mentions this historical and continuing war of the sexes for spiritual as well as physical preeminence several times, always as a lament. But here we are, this is our world as it is, and the re-balancing of male and female powers will not happen quickly. But it is forecast to happen, even in Coelho's Aleph story.

Does Aleph have a happy ending? That is asking for a very personal judgment. It depends on what, in the setting of the story, would make you happy in terms of an ending.

I was satisfied:  It had an ending.  But it did not make me particularly happy.  The ending was, to me, like bringing fairy tale characters into the real world just to let them go.  But that is the way I feel when I finish many a good book that really captured my heart and  imagination.  The pleasant and deeply stirring trance comes to an end.  Back to work!

I will stay tuned to Coelho's writing career.  I see no hints of Coelho retiring just yet, not in this book.

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