Like all works of Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian author and one of the most widely read; the pursuit of one’s dream is again the main plot of this novel By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept, one of his most amazing books.
It’s part of Coelho’s trilogy “On the Seventh Day”- the other two novels are Veronika Decides to Die and The Devil and Miss Prym- They all tell the story of someone who lives several events in a week time during which some unexpected things occur to him.
By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept discusses the pursuit of a dream and embarking on unplanned journey of change after you’ve dedicated your heart to a cause. It’s about compassion and forgiveness, among other values all tied to continuous attempts to discover why and how one should live his life.
Feeling utter boredom and frustration with the normality of her life, Pillar, an independent young woman, experiences major shift in her life after meeting with a childhood friend, or actually lover, who ended up becoming a spiritual teacher and famous miracle worker, after he has found refugee in religion having failed to solve his inner conflict and constant battles he fought against himself; trying to figure out what’s his highest purpose in life.
Pillar’s life takes a strange new turn.
At first she rejects her old sweetheart’s invitation to live the change, she also couldn’t believe his confession of love. Probably the long time she had spent alone in Zaragoza, capital city of former Kingdom of Aragon situated at the highest point of the valley of Ebro, Spain’s most water-bearing river, has turned her into someone who’s very much skeptic and doesn’t accept change easily or even has tolerance for anything new.
But eventually, and without fear for newer changes, Pillar decides to live the experience and taste it to the utmost and give herself in to the journey she embarks upon with her old friend, the journey of discovering her true self and purpose in life.
Together, they set off on a journey through exotic locations where they both decide to conquer their fears and set free their dreams, desires, and feelings of love. And by the River Piedra, in a small village in the French Pyrenees, after long years of separation, they are united forever.
In this enigmatic literal work, Coelho brings into focus a crucial fact most of us hate to admit; that we are so deeply lost in our daily lives that we fail to stop for a minute and think of seeking different direction that would bring us closer to our highest goals.
Moreover, the title has aroused the curiosity of a lot of people. It is inspired by Psalm 137 reading; “By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept, When we remembered Zion”, one of the most famous Bible psalms that expresses the feelings of sadness and the longings of the Jews in exile after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
But beware for the book has got some invented religious ideas that have got nothing to do with Christianity or Islam. You’ll find the connotations of some of the concepts mentioned and discussed by the main characters a bit controversial and, in my view, water down the good parts of the novel.
For instance Pillar’s old friend is portrayed as someone who belongs to a spiritual group that devotes, values and actually worships, in the words of Coelho, “the feminine face of God”. I personally refute the idea, for it reduces God to some creature that has got a masculine side and another feminine one.
However, setting aside all those controversial aspects of the book, it’s a great read. I actually found it one of the best love stories I ever read. It ties love with forgiveness, sincerity and endless thirst for life… values we hugely lack, and probably that’s why we’re having great difficulty coping with changes creeping into our lives, and the result… we have lost much of the thrill of life.