By Paulo Coelho
New York: Harper erennial, 1994
ISBN # 0-06-112209-2 (paper)
180 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
May 2012

From the preface:

“And with love, there are no rules. Some may try to control their emotions, and develop strategies for their behavior; others may turn to reading books of advice from “experts” on relationships – but this is all folly. The heart decides and what it decides is all that really matters.”

Pilar, 29 years of age, lives in a very small village in Spain in 1993. She’s still a student, has had a number of lovers, and wishes to find the right man and marry, but still carries the torch for a childhood friend who left the village some 15 years earlier.

There is little to no hope in her that he will ever return, but she is shocked to get a letter from him telling her about a lecture he is to give in Madrid – he asks, will she come to hear it. Puzzled, a bit hopeful, yet cautious, she decides to go to Madrid.

This is a love story for sure, but much more. At one level it is a story of two former sweethearts who are once who are once again reuniting, recognizing their love and finally following it.

However, there are larger ideas that don’t just fill in the gaps, but are a challenging and interesting stories themselves.

Pilar’s lover is, potentially at least, a figure who might change history, a Martin Luther, a Thomas Edison, an Einstein. However, author Coelho notes that in history it has often happened that someone sees into history and begins to propose a radical adjustment to some social knowledge, but the effort of the reformer is “too soon.” His or her culture isn’t ready and often the would-be-reformer becomes either a martyr or disillusioned and defeated. Pilar’s lover may well be one of these, pushing his idea of God as woman, or at least a strongly female partnership in the Godhead itself.

This is a fascinating theme in the novel, trying itself into the contemporary Charismatic movement within Roman Catholicism.

Another essential notion of the novel, and two others I’ve ready by the author Coelho, hammers home the theme that each and every human being has his or her uniqueness and needs the wisdom and courage to seek it out.

I ask myself; just how far does Pilar move in this direction? I’m not quite sure. Certainly she moves a great deal: from small-town girl with some hopes, but little imagination or drive, to a person so in charge of her own life that she can give up the love of her life for the good of others.

Yet it is her lover who seems to more fully fit Coelho’s ideal. He has the chance, at least, to be the instrument of a major shift in history and is willing to abandon that potential for his love of Pilar.

This makes me wonder – is that an argument for or against Coelho’s notion that “you must always follow your own wishes and create your own destiny?” I think many might argue that his story challenges the thesis of radical individualism, suggesting a role for some people to act as agents of the history’s destiny of others.

However, the subtitle is a puzzle to me: “A novel of forgiveness.” Who is being “forgiven” and for what? Since the male figure in the novel, Pilar’s lover, isn’t even named, I’m led to believe that she and her journey are the lead stories. If so, what is she “forgiving”? I couldn’t make much sense of the subtitle.

It looks in the end they will go forward with “his” work, and do so together. In the last sentence we read:

“Go get your things,” he said, “dreams mean work.”

Thus he gets both his lover and his quest. She, too, in that her lover was her quest, but where is the forgiveness?

Bob Corbett


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett