“By the River Piedra I sat down and wept. There is a legend that everything falls into the waters of this river – leaves, insects, the feathers of bird – is transformed into the rocks that make the riverbed. If only I could tear out my heart and hurl it into the current, then my pain and longing would be over, and I could finally forget.”And so the novel starts out. The most beautiful opening paragraph I’ve ever read in my life. And unless you are heartless or have never been in love, I don’t know how this wouldn’t at least rank somewhere on your list of most beautiful passages.
By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept was written by Paulo Coelho. He is best known for writing The Alchemist which just so happens to be my least favorite of the three books I’ve read by him. My introduction to Coehlo was The Zahir which was, like the other two I read, a beautiful story of love. Neither of those however prepared me for the beauty I would find in that very first paragraph of the novel.
It then continues:
By the River Piedra I sat down and wept. The winter air chills the tears on my cheeks, and my tears fall into the cold waters that course past me. Somewhere this river joins another, then another, until – far from my heart and sight – all of them merge with the sea."A couple pages later the protagonist, Pilar, takes us back to the beginning to tell the story of how she ended up weeping for this young man. They seemed to have always loved each other, even as childhood friends. However, they grew up and took separate paths in life. He chose to leave their small town to learn about the world (a theme present in both The Alchemist and The Zahir) while she chose to take the prescribed path of enrolling in a nearby university. They kept in touch throughout his travels, and one day he invited Pilar to hear him give a lecture in Madrid.
The story is a whirlwind from here. Pilar struggles to accept and embrace her feelings for him. He struggles to reconcile his love for the seminary, the gifts he has been given and the love he has held onto for so many years. While the beauty of their love story as it unfolds kept me wanting more, I found myself disappointed, especially toward the end when I didn’t feel the same intensity of emotions as I did with the opening paragraphs.
Like the other Coelho books I’ve read, By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept carries a spiritual theme, as he touches quite a bit on the mystical nature of God. In this particular piece, he focuses on the young man’s belief in a feminine God that grants him the power to heal. For some this may be an appealing aspect of Coehlo’s writings, but it tends to throw me off. It gives me some of the same vibes that the Celestine Prophecy gave me, which is more eerie than anything else.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed this book. I have two more books by Coelho that I want to read, one of them comes with high praise from Miss Melissa. And if you know me, you’ll know that there are VERY few authors from whom I’ve read more than one book. I must really like this guy.