* Prices may differ from that shown
I can't explain why I picked this book up in my local library except to say that it may have been "a magic moment of the day" that the book tells us about, during which we can change things.
Even so, when I started reading it, I thought it a bit weird. But something, perhaps curiosity, or perhaps another "magic moment" made me continue.
The Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has had his work translated into many languages. The most famous of these is The Alchemist.
== Spiritual Journeys Through Life ==
This story is of two childhood friends meeting up again. He has become a spiritual teacher and she is an adult student. The teacher still has much to learn himself, and the student wonders whether what she is learning in an academic way, is really what she needs to learn to be fulfilled and happy.
They have both been brought up as Catholics.
She has decided that she no longer believes in God.
He has decided that he doesn't think the Catholic Church is right about everything, but doesn't want to give it all up, as he sees too many good things about parts of it.
Despite the fact that he doesn't want to leave the Catholic Church, he doesn't even think Christians, let alone one denomination of Christianity, have got it exclusively right about God.
He believes God is in all of the major world religions.
Whether God has a feminine side is also seen, in the book, as an argument that will cause great conflict, and much is made of this. Personally it doesn't matter to me whether God is seen as masculine, feminine or something in-between which is the best of both, but perhaps this is because society has never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do because of my sex.
His superior at the seminary is concerned about the unhappiness the student will have by being one of the first not to conform to tradition, even though he thinks he is gifted.
The two friends travel through Spain and France, on a holiday with a difference, trying to find the right paths for them.
As well as being interested in the spiritual ideas, I enjoyed visiting the beautiful places on this trip with them.
== Words of Wisdom ==
This book contains chunks of wisdom. I will give you some examples.
1 "In fairytales the princesses kiss frogs, and the frogs become princes. In real life the princesses kiss princes, and the princes become frogs." Page 42
This may make you laugh or cry, depending on your experiences of romantic love.
2 "Those who try to kill the body violate God's law. Those who try to kill the soul also violate God's law, even though their crime is less visible to others." Page 28
I think this is relevant whether you believe in God or not, as long as you care about people. As well as the obvious, it is saying to me that we should be awake to those who would like to kill the good in us, in time to defend ourselves, so that they don't trick us.
3 "If we listen to the child that lives in our soul, our eyes will grow bright. If we do not lose contact with the child, we will not lose contact with life." Page 28
I believe that most adults have become good at concealing thoughts that they do not want to have, or emotions they are embarrassed to show, maybe because they do not want to be ridiculed or seen as weak. That's what I think this quote to talking about, but it may say something different to other readers.
It is only a short book, but I think it is better not to read it all at once. Instead I think it should be read in manageable chunks that allow the reader time to really think about what that part of the book is trying to say.
Maybe, you don't understand what I am saying. I don't think I would have understood myself, before reading some sort of spiritual book.
It will not surprise me if others read the same book and get something different out of it, as only clones might be expected to think the same way. Even if someone else chose to review in a similar style, they would be likely to pick different quotes to me, as the ones that stood out for them.
Maybe you will think that this review is rubbish, and perhaps you would think the same of the book. Maybe I should have chosen something "safer" to review, or maybe we can respect the differences between us. I hope so.
== Conclusion ==
This is a love story of great depth, about a man who would give up everything for the women he loves, and a woman who doesn't want him to.
In the last chapter, by the river Piedra, they decide which path to take, and whether it will be the same one for both of them.
I think this book will give readers an opportunity to develop their spiritual side, and hopefully help to understand what real love, as opposed to romantic love, means. The author has written a note telling us what it means to him.
The most important idea to come from this parable-like story for me is that if more people thought, like the author, that God is in all the major world religions, a lot of conflict may have been and could be avoided, unless of course God is just used as an excuse?
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Thorsons; New Ed edition (6 Sep 1999)
I have browsed Russian internet in search of criticism for Paolo Coelho's ...Rio Piedra... All in vain. Russian readers praise him and his books ferociously. Instead, in the English-speaking part of internet I've found several reviews expressing opinions very close to mine. So this is what I think: Coelho's literature language in most of his books (except for the Alchemist, maybe) is shallow and mediocre, his ideas naive; The writer puts across the universally acknowledged truths as something new and insightful; The characters and the plot of the book lack realism and it makes it hard to accept the book's main ideas and summary. The heroine of ...Rio Piedra... wears the same T-shirt all the time and it does not make her less attractive in the eyes of her companion. Imagine this! The characters don't bother about their jobs, friends or moral obligations... Their life is imaginary. Also, I am assured, that the literature's main goal is not to teach us something or to bring new ideas or to provide insights. Literature piece, like any other art (painting, film, dance) must be professionally done and be a masterpiece. I could not get any aesthetic pleasure from this book. It tries to teach things, yes, but what about the reader being not a school pupil, but instead a person with good artistic taste who wants to enjoy a well-written and masterfully composed book... I am absolutely sure I will not reread this book. There are many things that can make you want to read something again: author's style, ideas of the book, atmosphere, the plot. None of these that were present in this book satisfied me. I likes Alchemist when I first read it but I expected the author to change, to grow, to develop. Instead, I have a feeling that he tries to fool me.
I do not doubt that Paulo Coelho has talent; after reading “The Alchemist” I realised some his literary skills and thought-provoking ideas are worthy of praise. So I picked up another of his novels, “By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept” (1994), and eventually put it down sourly disappointed! Coelho markets this one as an arduous yet inspiring journey which revolves around love. However, merely to finish reading the novel potential readers might find themselves on a voyage as laborious and gruelling as climbing a mountain, only to find the view from the summit far from inspirational. The story centres on the relationship between a man and a woman and the inhibitions which prevent them from bringing their ‘liaison’ to a happy culmination. Eventually they succumb to their hidden desires and their passion is released in a steamy encounter, which leads (inevitably) to slight conflicts in their belief systems (morning-after syndrome!) and prevents them from furthering their relationship until they have time for a quiet a bit of retrospective contemplation! Hardly a storyline to inspire you to pick-up this effort – and somewhat reminiscent of an Indian (Bollywood) film, where boy meets girl and there are complications but eventually they get together anyway! Okay, let’s look at this in a little more detail: The girl (lady) is Pillar and she falls in love with a nameless man (always referred to as “my friend”) in her teenage years. His feelings for her are the same, but they part company despite being the best of friends. This love affair happens prior to the beginning of Pillar’s narrative, and is not adequately described to set a foundation for later events (which is actually what the story is about), readers will find it is similar to a pre-pubescent adoration for ones best friend rather than the (young) adult-like emotions which Pillar and her nameless lover apparen
tly had. Eleven years later, Pillar meets her childhood sweetheart again, and destiny pushes them together into a bizarrely unfulfilling relationship. Both parties suddenly realise they loved each other eleven years earlier and it was only timidity which prevented them from being together. So despite their vastly different choices in life, they embark upon a journey where the man ‘sells’ himself to Pillar, and she responds after overcoming a number of doubts. This may not be so unusual, as many a time husbands and wives give up so much to be with the other, and opposites do attract. However, Pillar does not appear to be the man’s equal intellectually, and his mysticism does not seem as if it would appeal to a woman of her nature or background. Whilst she has learnt throughout her life to keep her cards close to her chest and reveal none of her emotions, he has become a spiritual leader whose teachings are based upon the feminine side of God – he also has a reputation for being able to perform miracles. Of course, even after all this time she still finds him physically attractive too, and even though the first-person narrative is written by Pillar, she indicates her lover finds her as pretty as ever! Definitely reminiscent of a cheap American soap-opera! “By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept” could have been written equally well by any romantic novelist, and even though it is a little more insipid (descriptively) than the average “Mills and Boon” effort, it quite easily fits into the genre. Pillar and her friend embark on a journey which culminates in a small village in the French Pyrenees (by the River Piedra), and it is in this scenic environment the two discuss a number of grandiose themes and end-up debating their past, assigning blame for opportunities lost. Through this process and drinking skinfulls of wine, they end up spending a night together in many blissful embrace
s! Apparently they are mentally in tune, physically attracted to one another and are perfect lovers for each other too! Can’t be bad! What about the philosophy? After all, Coelho is oft heralded for presenting philosophical truths in literary picturesque novellas; and he usually attempts to illustrate how following ones dreams will lead to ultimate happiness as the universe aids the dreamer in achieving his/her desires. (Vaguely reminiscent of Richard Bach.) And “By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept” is no exception, because by following her dreams and listening to her inner self, Pillar ultimately finds happiness in the arms of the man she loves. In addition to the rather paltry storyline, Coelho appears to have difficulty in writing a first-person narrative from a female point of view. Before writing novels, he was a theatre director, songwriter, journalist and television playwright. So it is surprising he cannot convincingly describe a feminine perspective; and even though it probably would not have improved the storyline or wishy-washy philosophy, the novel might at least have been a little more credible had he made the narrating character a male. However, despite the Coelho’s difficulty in writing as a female, the language flows quite well and “By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept” is easy to read. Is it a good read? Perhaps! It rather depends on what type of literature pleases you; romantic fiction, it is. A serious work of philosophy, it is not! It is simply written and I believe it is written for the simply minded. Even the idealistic twaddle Coelho palms-off as being ingenuously truthful philosophy is effortless to navigate, but also leaves little impression on the heart and mind of the reader. His notion of the “other self” being a help or hindrance depending upon how one is able to address and control it is extraordinarily weak – and is the focus of no
vel alongside the feminine side of God. Neither is explained well enough to hold any substantial weight, and as they are intertwined with a love story it becomes increasingly difficult with each turning page to understand Coelho’s point. However, it should be bought on charitable grounds: because the Paulo Coelho Foundation, which is a non-profit-making institution financed exclusively by the author’s royalties, will benefit from your purchase. And this foundation provides Brazil’s underprivileged with opportunities they may not otherwise have. So go ahead and buy the book, it’ll do some good; but do not be surprised if you only get halfway through “By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept” and then place it on your bookshelf to gather dust! In conclusion, I cite the following from Paulo Coelho’s web-site: “The critics have specially praised his poetic, realistic and philosophical style, and "the symbolic language that does not speak to our brains, but to our hearts".” True enough for some of his work. But “By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept” spoke directly to my stomach, leaving an uncomfortable feeling down there for quite some time!
Tells the story of Pilar, a frustrated scholar looking for some greater meaning in the endless cycle of her days.