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Authors: Paulo Coelho


BOOK: Aleph
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The Alchemist

The Pilgrimage

The Valkyries

By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

The Fifth Mountain

Veronika Decides to Die

Warrior of the Light: A Manual

Eleven Minutes

The Zahir

The Devil and Miss Prym

The Witch of Portobello


The Winner Stands Alone


Translation copyright © 2011 by Margaret Jull Costa

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by
Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
and in Canada by Random House of
Canada Limited, Toronto.

Originally published in Brazil as
O Aleph
by Sextante, Rio de
Janeiro, in 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Paulo Coelho.

by John Gilkes

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are
registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Coelho, Paulo.
[Aleph. English]           
Aleph / by Paulo Coelho; translated by Margaret Jull
Costa.—1st American ed.
p. cm.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
eISBN: 978-0-307-95701-6
I. Costa, Margaret Jull.   II. Title.
4413 2011
869.3′42—dc22     2011021088

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Jacket design by Katya Mezhibovskaya


O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for those who turn to you. Amen.

A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.

—Luke 19:12

For J., who keeps me walking

S.J., who continues to protect me

Hilal, for her words of forgiveness
in the church in Novosibirsk


The Aleph was about two to three centimetres in diameter, but all of cosmic space was there, with no diminution in size. Each thing was infinite, because I could clearly see it from every point on the universe.

—Jorge Luis Borges,
The Aleph

Thou knowest all—I cannot see
I trust I shall not live in vain
I know that we shall meet again
In some divine eternity

—Oscar Wilde,
“The True Knowledge”

King of My Kingdom

Not another invocation intended to make the invisible forces manifest in the visible world! What has that got to do with the world we live in today? Graduates leave university and can’t find a job. Old people reach retirement and have almost nothing to live on. Grown-ups have no time to dream, struggling from nine to five to support their families and pay for their children’s education, always bumping up against the thing we all know as “harsh reality.”

The world has never been as divided as it is now, what with religious wars, genocides, a lack of respect for the planet, economic crises, depression, poverty, with everyone wanting instant solutions to at least some of the world’s problems or their own. And things look only bleaker as we head into the future.

What am I doing here, trying to make my way in a spiritual tradition whose roots are in the remote past, far from all the challenges of the present moment?

J., whom I call my Master, although I’m beginning to have doubts about that, I am walking toward the sacred oak tree, which, for more than five hundred years, has stood there, impassively contemplating humanity’s woes, its one concern being to surrender its leaves in winter and recover them in spring.

I can’t stand to write any more about my relationship with J., my guide in the Tradition. I have dozens of diaries full of notes of our conversations, which I never bother to reread. Since our first meeting in Amsterdam, in 1982, I have learned and unlearned how to live hundreds of times. Whenever J. teaches me something new, I think that perhaps this will be the last step required to reach the top of the mountain, the note that justifies a whole symphony, the word that sums up an entire book. I go through a period of euphoria, which gradually dissipates. Some things stay forever, but most of the exercises, practices, and teachings end up disappearing down a black hole. Or so it seems.

. It occurs to me that my sneakers, meticulously washed two days before, will soon be covered in mud again, however carefully I tread. My search for wisdom, peace of mind, and an awareness of realities visible and invisible has become routine and pointless. I began my apprenticeship in magic when I was twenty-two. I followed various paths, walked along the very edge of the abyss for many years, slipped and fell, gave up and started
all over again. I imagined that by the time I reached the age of fifty-nine, I would be close to paradise and to the absolute peace I thought I could see in the smiles of Buddhist monks.

In fact, I seem to be further from achieving that than ever. I’m not at peace—now and then I go through periods of inner conflict that can persist for months—and the times when I immerse myself in some magical reality last only seconds, just long enough to know that another world exists, and long enough to leave me frustrated because I can’t absorb everything I learn.

We arrive.

When the ritual is over, I’ll have a serious talk with him. We both place our hands on the trunk of the sacred oak.


“O God, when I listen to the voices of animals, the sounds of trees, the murmurings of water, the singing of birds, the whistling of the wind, or the boom of thunder, I see in them evidence of Your unity; I feel that You are supreme power, omniscience, supreme knowledge, and supreme justice

I recognize You, O God, in the trials I am going through. May Your pleasure be my pleasure, too. May I be Your joy, the joy that a Father feels for a son. And may I think of You calmly and with determination, even when I find it hard to say I love You.”

Usually, at this point, I would feel—for only a fraction of a second, but that’s always enough—the One Presence that moves the Sun and the Earth and ensures that the stars remain in their places. But I don’t feel like talking to the
Universe today, I just want the man at my side to give me the answers I need.

from the tree trunk, and I do the same. He smiles at me, and I return his smile. We make our way, in silence, unhurriedly, back to my house, where we sit on the veranda and drink coffee, still without talking.

I look at the huge tree in the middle of my garden, with a ribbon tied around its trunk, placed there after a dream I had. I am in the hamlet of Saint Martin, in the French Pyrenees, in a house I now regret having bought, because it has ended up owning me, demanding my presence whenever possible because it needs someone to look after it, to keep its energy alive.

“I can’t evolve any further,” I say, falling, as always, into the trap of being the first to speak. “I think I’ve reached my limit.”

“That’s funny. I’ve been trying all my life to find out what my limits are and have never reached them yet. But then my universe doesn’t really help, it keeps expanding and won’t allow me to know it entirely,” says J., provocatively.

He’s being ironic, but I keep talking.

“Why did you come here today? To try and convince me that I’m wrong, as usual. You can say what you like, but words won’t change anything. I’m not happy.”

“That’s exactly why I came. I’ve been aware of what’s been going on for some time now, but there is always a right moment to act,” says J., picking up a pear from the table and turning it over in his hands. “If we had spoken
before, you would not have been ripe. If we were to talk later, you would have rotted.” He bites into the pear, savoring the taste. “Perfect. The right moment.”

“I’m filled with doubt, especially about my faith,” I say.

“Good. It’s doubt that drives a man onward.”

Somehow the usual apt responses and images aren’t working today.

“I’m going to tell you what you feel,” J. says. “You feel that nothing you have learned has put down roots, that while you’re capable of entering the magical universe, you cannot remain submerged in it. You feel that all of this may be nothing but a fantasy dreamed up by people to fend off their fear of death.”

My questions go deeper than that; they are doubts about my faith. I have only one certainty: there exists a parallel spiritual universe that impinges on the world in which we live. Apart from that, everything else seems absurd to me—sacred books, revelations, guides, manuals, ceremonies … and, what is worse, they appear to have no lasting effects.

“I’m going to tell you what I once felt,” J. adds. “When I was young, I was dazzled by all the things life could offer me. I thought I was capable of achieving all of them. When I got married, I had to choose just one path, because I needed to support the woman I love and my children. When I was forty-five and a highly successful executive, I saw my children grow up and leave home, and I thought that from then on, everything would be a mere repetition of what I had already experienced. That was when my spiritual search began. I’m a disciplined man, and I put all my
energies into that. I went through periods of enthusiasm and unbelief, until I reached the stage you are at now.”

“Look, J., despite all my efforts, I still can’t honestly say that I feel closer to God and to myself,” I tell him, with barely concealed exasperation.

“That’s because, like everyone else on the planet, you believed that time would teach you to grow closer to God. But time doesn’t teach; it merely brings us a sense of weariness and of growing older.”

The oak tree in my garden appears to be looking at me now. It must be more than four hundred years old, and the only thing it has learned is to stay in one place.

“Why did we go and perform that ritual around that other oak tree? How does that help us become better human beings?”

“Precisely because most people don’t perform rituals around oak trees anymore, and because by performing apparently absurd rituals, you get in touch with something deep in your soul, in the oldest part of yourself, the part closest to the origin of everything.”

BOOK: Aleph
12.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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