Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Side of Religion with my Coffee

When the lovely young woman I share my office with found out I love The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, she was kind enough to lend me several of his other books. A big fan herself, she suggested I start with By the River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept, which is exactly what I did.
I read The Alchemist several years ago, when I was a senior in high school, and the underlying theme of finding one's personal legend motivated me to include Coelho's most widely-read book in my senior thesis. All of Coelho's works have strong messages throughout, largely related to love and faith, and By the River Piedra proved to be no different.
This powerful story tells the tale of Pilar and her closest childhood friend, a young man who not only has harbored an ardent love for Pilar his entire life but who also has the mystical ability to perform miracles and cures with the help of his strong faith. Pilar too learns that she has loved this young man ever since they were small children, but she struggles with her ability to love until she is finally able to free both herself and her heart. A woman who has lived in fear and doubt her entire life, Pilar embarks on a journey with her childhood friend and learns more about love, life and faith than she could ever have imagined.
Set in the beautiful landscapes of northern Spain and southern France, this story flows as gently and captivatingly as morning mist over snow-capped peaks. In fact, the famous, religiously-loaded town of Lourdes plays a key role in Coelho's story, and the events that transpire therein are both mystifying and enlightening. Coelho not only weaves a romantic tale, but he also delivers quite the interesting history lesson.
Coelho's River Piedra not only addresses love but also delves into the Catholic faith. As I was reading, I learned a great deal more about various religious beliefs that stem from Catholicism than I would have thought from the summary on the back of the book. Not an incredibly religious person myself, I did have some difficulty swallowing the more intensely religious passages, but I can definitely appreciate Coelho's take on faith, as well as his descriptions of the main characters' journeys towards discovering their own personal take on religion. Coelho consistently compares love and faith in God, and weaves an almost cause-and-effect relationship between to the two, and while I do not fully agree with this, I can certainly understand where he is coming from. The book also does an excellent job of supporting these theories, and the love story between Pilar and her friend is, if anything, an interesting one.
One thing I found to be particularly intriguing is that Pilar's friend is never named. She never calls him by name, and none of the supporting characters do as well. They all simply refer to him as, well, "him." Not to pull an "Exe-Jesus"-esque approach on you all, but I have to admit that the first thing that crossed my mind when I realized this was: "Christ metaphor." Yes, Pilar's love is truly a Christ-like figure, and the fact that he is addressed similarly to Jesus in the Bible only proves this hypothesis even more.
Of course, this book is not just smooth sailing. Ultimately, Pilar and her friend must make a choice, and this choice is, of course, not an easy one to make.
Now, while I did not love this book, I did like it. River Piedra was a quick, yet enjoyable, read, and it did made me think. I appreciate a good dose of mental stimulation every now and then, which I then proceed to totally negate by the Iron Chef America marathons on the Food Network...
If you haven't read Coelho's The Alchemist, do so immediately, but River Piedra is another solid performace on his part.

PS - I may or may not be listening to "Ave Maria" while writing this...


At 8:13 PM, Blogger Octavee said...

Hi, I read both, the alchemist and the river piedra. I liked the alchemist somewhat, but the other book was disappointing. I read another one of Coelho, I think it was called, Veronika descides to die. This was very intriging.
Just my opinion.


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