Paulo Coelho is a master storyteller and a spiritually-guided writer well-known for his bestselling books like The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes. His book By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is nothing less than a work of art. The protagonist, a 28-year-old woman called Pilar, experiences spirituality through love. “We must never forget that spiritual experience is, above all, a practical experience of love,” Coelho writes.
Pilar’s life is ordinary like any of ours. That is, until she receives a letter from her childhood love, inviting her to attend a talk he is delivering in Madrid. He has become a charismatic spiritual teacher who heals people. Pilar reminisces about the time they spent together as children and his aspirations to explore the world beyond Soria. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she follows him on his journey. Little does she know that this decision would change the course of her life.
Along her journey through the French Pyrenees, Pilar discovers her lover’s miraculous spiritual gifts. She also learns of his inner conflicts and his refuge in religion. Her lover is one of those people who could change the course of history forever. Coelho writes: “He is a revolutionary. If he is able to concentrate his forces well, he can be one of the leaders in the spiritual transformation of human race.” Pilar’s lover wants to propagate the idea that God is female. But often in history, radical ideas are not easily accepted. The reformer is usually dismissed as a nutter.
The crux of the story is how Pilar, a small-town girl with limited imagination and dreams, transforms herself and takes charge of her life. She even goes to the extent of giving up her life for the good of others. Pilar and her lover resolve their conflicts together and realise that love is god.
Paulo Coelho, with his wistful writing style, has powerfully weaved together the concepts of love and spirituality. The story is poetic and, at the same time, modern. By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is a deeply engrossing read. Flipping through the pages makes one believe that each of us has something unique within us, but we often lack the courage to seek it.