‘Aleph’ by Paulo Coelho

For some books, I tend to have this problem – at the end, after I have read all of it, I lack the confidence to talk about it because I have no concrete idea what to say of it. My thoughts about it is not coherent and I don’t remember well the details, eventhough I had just finished it. 

My reading is always way far ahead of my writing about them. I just wanna read – reading is blissful. I think that the other side of this fear is actually that fear of doing something imperfectly. Not many ideas are great ideas and in this blog medium where we try to balance our life and writing in it, maybe we should accept the fact that some weeks we may show up to the blog but it won’t be our best selves. 

I will not be writing reflection pieces for everything I read next year, definitely not, but I will only write it for those that profoundly impacts me as a reader. Those books with really great stories and ideas that expands my mind and gives me a new way of thinking. I also want to keep a Marginalia – I heard about it from a Podcast that I listened to recently. To take notes while reading, using sticky tabs, circling new big words and writing definitions of it, using acronyms to mark things – like ‘BL’ for Beautiful Language or ‘GQ’ for Great Quote & other ingenous ways employed by awesome people. And please do tell me of your tricks in making the most of your reading. Next year, I am all for learning and absorbing more goodness from books. The other big goal is to read more non-fiction books too. 

Now about the this book … 

First of all, what is the meaning of the word Aleph. Wellaccording to Paulo Coelho, the author; ” .. in the magical Tradition [Aleph] presents itself in one of two ways. The first is as a point in the universe that contains all other points, present and past, large and small. You normally come across it by chance. For this to happen, [we have to be] in the actual place where the Aleph exists.. called the small Aleph.” So, the place where it is mostly experienced is called the small Aleph and what we experience in it – where we are given vivid, magical and frightening visuals of our past and present and everything else large and small – is called the Aleph.

This book is writen by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho who wrote the world famous – ‘The Alchemist’. Another one of his famous book is ’11 Minutes’, and while reading through my diary few days ago, I found out that I had foregone choosing it for another book (because I didn’t know how impactful to readers it was then), and that I regret. 

This is the first time that I am reading a Paulo Coelho book and it was given to me by my friend Adi Mariana. I feel that this book, reading it when I did, was very timely. I needed it. I needed to pay attention to my spiritual side, it’s often neglected but life is more wonderful when we continuously interact with our spiritual side. 

This book is a personal account of Paulo Coelho’s journey across the whole of Russia through the Transiberian railway in search of some spiritual enlightenment. In the begining of the book we find him being haunted by these feelings of dissatisfaction. So he searched for answers. He needed to find the root cause of that dissatisfaction and try to resolve it. 

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.

Those who have read his writings would know that Paulo Coelho is a very spiritual person, he is a spiritual leader – one of Oprah’s favorite people. And this is is a spiritual and reflective book. The whole adventure spun out of a conversation he had with his Master who he calls J. The master offers some great words of advice to Paulo Coelho on the need to make a commitment to something and the need for a spiritual kind of travel and adventure. 

Our life is a constant journey, from birth to death. The landscape changes, the people change, our needs change, but the train keeps moving. Life is the train, not the station. 

Wherever you are committed to going. Find out what you have left unfinished and complete the task. God will guide you, because everything you ever experienced or will experience is in the here and now. 

With those words of advice in mind, during a book event he agrees to proposals from few publishers around the world to visit their country within a very compact set of dates – several continents in a matter of few weeks – much to the dismay of his agent Monica. Through the process of travelling and meeting his readers, he hoped to come across the remedy for his internal sense of dissatisfaction. 

I love this beautiful quote by Paulo Coelho on his Agent Monica who believed and fought for him and his writings: 

She believed in the impossible and, for that reason, won a battle that everyone, including myself, considered to be lost. That is what marks out the warrior: the knowledge that willpower and courage are not the same thing. Courage attracts fear and adulation, but willpower requires patience and commitment. Men and women with immense willpower are generally solitary types and give off a kind of coolness. 

I love reading personal memoirs of writers and reading about them going on a personal voyage of discovery is an added bonus. And, I am always curious with questions like; What is it like as a succesful writer? How is it like on the road during book tours? How does it feel like meeting with your people, your fans, your readers? Thats exactly what happens in this book – it’s not so much an important aspect of the book – but it does explain some of the intimate, behind the scenes, a day in a writers life – on the road – moments. 

The writer, the singer, the gardner, the translator, we are all mirrors of our time. We pour our love into our work. In my case, obviously, reading is very important, but anyone who puts all his faith in academic tomes and creative writing courses is missing the point: words are life set down on paper. So seek out the company of others. 

Paulo Coelho tells us a story stemmed out of the belief of reincarnation in this book. He is a very fluid person who delves into other cultures and religions and embraces them; seeing a commonality and the universal aspects of each practice. I like that. I like how he embraces everything. This book made see that spiritually, we are all connected, we maybe different in how we worship but there is a common thread. And yes, we are all searching for the same thing in life, which is happiness, a sense of purpose and belonging to this Universe. 

The train trip through Russia took weeks and we find the characters physically and emotionally challenged while travelling from city to city on that noisy, metal clanging, tooting and honking -out – loud train. It was difficult even for Paulo Coelho but he had a goal and all throughout he retained that philosophical and spiritual outlook on life. Eventhough he gets off on occassions to meet his readers – which was the main purpose of the trip in the first place – a good portion of the story revolves around life within the confines of the train and the people he travels with. 

On that trip, Paulo Coelho travelled with a group of people but the two significant one’s who aided him in his spiritual adventure were his translator, 70 year old Yao (I named him Yuri for a while there) and Hilal, a young violinist who was also undergoing her own inner turmoil and claimed to have been drawn to him. 

Hilal was not an official part of the trip, she insisted that she has to go with them and was very single minded about joining the trip and finding love and closure in Paulo. She also turned out to be a significant piece of the puzzle in his heart. This they identified through the Aleph that they experienced on a small Aleph on the train, where they saw their past life and how they were connected. 

On that note, this part here got me abit like ‘what?’ for a moment. You see, Paulo Coelho has been married four times and for all those changes he had special spiritual reasonings for all of them. I dont know, that’s a bit corny. It’s amazing however that he found restraint and didn’t end up having a fifth wife regardless of the amount of advances the young and attractive Hilal made at him.

In a former life of their’s, in the 1400’s, Paulo Coelho was Hilal’s lover and he wronged her then. So that bad feeling he has been carrying around is actually the guilt of what he had done to her in that previous life. Reincarnation is talked about in this book and confidently Paulo Coelho presents it in this beautiful story. He teaches us by sharing his personal story and experience of why he believes it’s true. I dont know if I believe in it. I need to do more research on it. But what I got out of the book is this need to really pay attention to life and to take my spiritual side more seriously. Maybe that’s what a lot of people get out of reading Paulo Coelho’s book. This is a spiritual book with a lot of spiritual practices like the Ring Of Fire which sounds very interesting, and the practice of Shamanism.

IF reincarnation is true however, then I believe that I might have been a writer who died on his desk, sitting on a green chair, on the second floor of a building. Behind me was a window where I could see lights from an old city. How do I make such assumptions? Well, I tried digging deep into myself in search of a former past and that’s what I saw – that pictures pops up in my mind. Oh don’t take it seriously, it’s some theory that I came up with when I was very young. I desperately wanted to believe that I existed before and will exist as some other person after this life, so I consoled myself by believing in that. 

This book was a great read, very interesting, I loved it. I just couldn’t put it down. Reading about how his writings and his ideas (that he held onto strongly) endeared him to people, inspired me in a way to write about things that I personally believe in – even when it might sound bonkers to some people. Now, I am really looking forward to reading ‘The Alchemist’. Ahhh, that should be more magical. 

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‘The Story of Edgar Sawtelle’ by David Wroblewski

Keeping up with a tradition of this year, which is writing a reflective piece of all the books I read, this one is for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski which I finished recently. Its such a strenous and probably irrational commitment to make upon myself. Why am I doing this? I dont even know, I just feel the need to commit to something, and this particular commitment I feel will benefit me in some way, probably along the way, as I stride through the task. And this is not a book review, I feel I am not an expert yet thus I feel it would be fraudulent of me to take up a fine scalpel and disect a book or neither am I a seasoned reader to start rating them with Stars too. This is my book reflection, a swift drive back of my thoughts and memories through the whole reading experience of the book from begining till end. 

This book was a big one, therefore I am very, very proud of having finished that great lump of a book. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is an American novel that was greatly praised by Stephen King, the Oprah book club, New York Times and the many other established and respected Reviewers out there. Thats what drew me to this. Plus, its titled ‘The Story of ….” which I wanted to know more of. A simple title adequate of an Essay heading by a Junior Level student, like something I would write as a title in Primary School and then my teacher would growl at me for being so clichéd and uncreative with titles. With such simplicity in titles, I always assume that great depth shall follow. Simple titles created by adults as title for serious novels is actually a good thing – its a sign of seriousness.

The cover of the book – lovely! The soft colours, the picture that captures heartland America with a huge red barn and a young boy (definitely Edgar Sawtelle) and a large fury dog – idyllic country life at its best -walking back to that big red ole barn. Its a picture of a fine evening – oooh somebody take me there. Matter of fact seeing the illustration and the well thought out, carefully constructed yet simple cover (again a sign of seriousness and depth), I saw my ticket to heartland America, part of the great reason I snatched up the book, determined to read it.

So the book starts off with a man traversing through a street in Korea searching for a particular shop … Hmm .. mysterious, where the dogs at I thought, because I read at the back cover description that it is about a family with a dog kennel. But no, hold on tight Kaliova, I thought, I knew I had to remember that bit as its going to be of great use to solving a mystery later on. This unknown man who supposedly has military background was after a particular shop and the Korean man gave him poison, how I know its poison – well the man tests it on a stray dog (maybe it was his own dog, but no that would be a heartless and weird thing to do)  and the stray dog dies. 

After that we are transported to the great Sawtelle farm. It provides a back story to how the residence got into the hands of John Sawtelle (Edgars grandfather) and also how the Dog Kennel business began. It began with Mr John Sawtelles love for dogs and his belief that dogs had unique qualities and traits so a careful breeding process needs to take place in order to create fine specimen of dogs. So every dog was a carefully scrutinised and studied and then matches were made. They had files for every dog and they had developed formulas to identify probibilities of success and failure. So therefore was no love marriages in that Kingdom especially in terms of the dogs. Also a very regimental training programme was in place for the dogs from when they are young pups till the placement day – where they are given to new owners. They take this whole Dog Breeding and Training programme to a whole new level in the sense that even after placement the dogs progress is still monitored and they are always following up with new owners. And all of this is monitored mind you. Quite incredible, its a sign of great commitment to the craft.

Edgar Sawtelle, son of Gar and Trudy Sawtelle was born after one miscarriage – a devastating blow on both the couple – hence he was a much needed blessing for the gloomy state the couple were in. He had a small disability, he was mute but he was not deaf. Before his birth a dog named Almondine had been raised as as a family pet, different from the rest of dogs in Kennel. He was a family pet and an intelligent one who became the voice for Edgar – in the sense that he would bark when Edgar was crying for help. Almondine was a close companion for Edgar from Day 1 till the end of this book. 

Everything was fine until the day that Claude Sawtelle – Edgars uncle who sold his share of the Kennel business and recruited himself in the army – came back. A very disruptive man with a hidden agenda. He was weird and smelt of trouble from that very first day we are introduced to him in that book. Forgot to mention this but its an equally important minor detail, John Sawtelle had only 2 sons – Edgars father and Claude. This Claude had something againt Edgars fathers, Gar. He was probably jealous of him but totally unwarranted as Gar stayed back and made things work and he became better at what he did, so quite distasteful that he was jealous – irrational, evil and selfish. 

I should mention how Trudy was a great match for Edgars father in terms of running the whole Kennel business. She complimented him well and excelled in arreas where Edgars father did not do well. She was good at training dogs where else he wasnt, but he was very analytical and passionate about breeding them and running the overall business, dog placements and the follow ups with new dog owners. 

Tragedy happened somewhere in the middle lf the book when Edgars father died. Things changed and even though Doctors claimed it was some fatal flaw that was totally random and had a small probability of occuring. Trudy and Edgar were left behind to run the Kennel by themselves and from the first day they were determined to show they were going to make it in order to avoid loosing it. 

Edgar uncovered a mystery to the death of his father raising great suspicion in him that his father was murdered. By grief over the new information, he is driven to act like a lunatic and the whole book just spirals downward from there. Quite intense and I just didnt like it much. I feel that alot of things couldve been prevented. The overly tragic ending couldve been prevented if things happened differently or if the adults in the book were more adult and actually cared for that desperately lonely and hurt young boy. The book is very long and oh my gerrd it was tiring. 

Out of everything in the book I liked a sub character who came later on when young Edgar was on the run with his dogs. He was a man living alone after his girlfriend breaks up with him for being too ordinary. I liked how very ordinary and practical his life was out there in a place probably considered to be the middle of nowhere. He was very laid back. He went to work in the morning and came back in the afternoon with groceries, made dinner for himself, listened to Vinyl music and then went off to sleep. There was a lot of food. Somedays he would sit out in the yard and make Barbeque and have himself beer out there in his front yard. He loved his beer. I liked that account of his life – the sense of solitary living and peace – and also how he shared it with Edgar and his dogs when they came running upon him hungry and hurt. 

I am leaving out a lot of details from the book to avoid being a spoiler for anyone else intending to read it. Overall I am not too much enthusiastic about this book. I had high expectation of it but it fell flat for me. Probably this is due to the fact that I dont relate to it in anyway and also I felt it was unrealistic and over exagerated. Books should be told from a point of honesty and I believe this book was just aspiring for greatness hence the length of it and the great drama in it. 

Again, thanks for reading. If you have read this book, how did you find the book? If you liked the book, you could help me like it too by sharing why you liked it?