By the River Piedro I Sat Down and Wept (1994)
The year 1994 was another highly successful year: Coelho published “By the River Piedro I sat down and wept”, which sold 70,000 copies within the first day. The book is well recognised in France. The year 1994 marked the start of world fame and Coelho gained self-confidence and rejected the strong criticism of him in Brazil (Morais, 2009). “By the River Piedro I sat down and wept” (Coelho, 1996) also gained positive recognition from the clergy because of its symbols of Catholicism, rituals and magical themes. However, the book was torn apart by the Brazilian press and Coelho’s critics (Morais, 2009).
“In “By the River Piedro I sat down and wept” Coelho (1996 in English translation) deals with the story of a young woman who falls in love with a young man. However, he leaves the little town and becomes a charismatic, spiritual leader who has turned to religion as a refuge from his inner conflicts. After 11 years, he writes her a letter and the woman leaves her home town and goes on a journey through the French Pyrenees to discover the depth of his spiritual gifts.
In the author’s note, Coelho (1996, p. viii) highlights - while telling a story about a missionary and his contact with three Aztec priests on an island - that “God speaks all languages”. With this story, Coelho (1996, p. viii) highlights that human beings often do not recognise that they are “in the midst of the extraordinary”. He (1996) points out that traditional religious practices are important to share communal experiences of adoration and prayer with others. However, it should not be forgotten that “spirituality is above all a practical experience of love” (Coelho, 1996, p. viii) and the “more we love, the closer we come to spiritual experience” (Coelho, 1996, p. ix). The two main characters in the book, Pilar and her companion, are fictitious and are in dialogue about many conflicts human beings encounter in the search for love (Coelho, 1996).
The book shows the spiritual development of Pilar’s companion and her struggle about her personal change while travelling with him. The book describes her friend as a spiritual master who can do magic, perform miracles (Coelho, 1996, p. 30) and dives into the magic moments of life to experience it fully (Coelho, 1996, p. 8). Through their dialogues, the main characters explore topics of how God expresses himself in nature and daily routines (Coelho, 1996, p. 8), the magic moments that people experience in daily routines as soon as they are mindful (Coelho, 1996, p. 8), the importance of joy, life as a transition, the recognition of miracles that God planted in the days and the “moment when all the power of the stars becomes a part of us and enables us to perform miracles” (Coelho, 1996, p. 8). However, the book also touches on the feminine side of religion and the masculine side of the dogmas, the laws and the male priests, while Pilar’s friend believes “in the feminine side of God” (Coelho, 1996, p. 12), which is represented in the moon and expressed in the water (Coelho, 1996, pp. 14-16).
One of the main topics of the book is love and that love is always connected to losing control (Coelho, 1996, p. 37), about turning the world upside down (Coelho, 1996, p. 47). It is also about the challenge to live the dream of love during one’s life without giving up when one feels defeated. It is about feeling and about being surprised about the orders of life, which often take a person into the unknown, even “when we don’t want to and when we think we don’t need to” (Coelho, 1996, p. 49).
Pilar describes her movement away from her strict religious belief and religion that had been part of her life and her childhood. However, this has passed. Pilar still says prayers, but in a rather “automatic” way, without knowing whether she still believes in it (Coelho, 1996, p. 54). At the same time, her friend talks about the “other”, the individuals and the society that generally teach us that a person has to live for money-making and not for the mystery of life (Coelho, 1996, p. 56). He gives a speech about living in the moment, separating the other from life and thus opening oneself to the Divine Energy that then enables one to experience the beginning of the performance of miracles, while following one’s dream and soul’s desire, (Coelho, 1996, p. 57). The book reiterates the well-known message of Coelho that “the universe always conspires to help the dreamer” (Coelho, 1996, p. 59).
Pilar and her childhood love experience their common love as well as the suffering that is connected to loving. The book describes the two characters and their way of deciding that it is their love that is stronger than “the other” (Coelho, 1996, p. 56) and that this makes them decide to be together. They leave their former life behind and start a new life together - they start living their dream. Coelho describes the inner dialogue of Pilar between herself and the other, fighting the “good fight” to love, trust and give up control (Coelho, 1996, p. 51).
The book is not only about love, “the other” and living a dream, but also about Catholicism on the one hand and a spiritual way of believing on the other. It is about the Virgin Mary and the idea of a goddess who makes life a mystery (Coelho, 1996, p. 69). Coelho describes a ritual in the book that Pilar and her friend experience and that probably belongs to RAM practices (Coelho, 1996, pp. 109) and might also be part of his personal life. He describes Pilar’s move away from the fearful God of the church that turns into a spiritual God that loves (Coelho, 1996, p. 91). He describes Pilar’s way of dealing with her fear and overcoming these fears (Coelho, 1996, p. 99) and the taking of risks while walking on God’s path (Coelho, 1996, p. 151). The story of Pilar and her companion, the feelings, thoughts and behaviours, carry many of Paulo Coelho’s life themes that recur in his books and are viewed as autobiographical, such as the spiritual path, the dilemmas of faith and belief, the combat of fear and the fight for the common dream.