By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is the first in Paulo Coelho’s On the Seventh Day trilogy. It’s the story of Pilar, a young woman who reunites with her unnamed childhood sweetheart to go on a pilgrimage. The sweetheart in question is a spiritual teacher who is able to heal people, and who bases his faith around the role of the Virgin Mary as a Goddess (I think. I’m a bit shaky on the religious bits). He’s torn between his love for Pilar and his desire to serve the Goddess with his ability to heal people.
I’m not going to lie, this book didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. The blurb didn’t interest me at all, in fact if anything it put me off reading it. I can think of nothing more boring than reading about a spiritual journey and someone developing their religious faith. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. It’s the sort of book that frustrates me. The only reason I read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (what a mouthful) is because I wanted to read the second part in the trilogy, Veronika Decides to Die. On the Seventh Day isn’t a trilogy that’s linked by characters or settings, but is linked by concept. Every book in the trilogy deals with one week in the life of the main character, in which they undergo some big spiritual revelation or life changing event. I could have got away with skipping By the River Piedra then, without it affecting the later books in the trilogy, but there’s a part of me that balks at the thought of reading a trilogy or series haphazardly, and it was a pretty short book so I thought I might as well power on through.
I was right to be a little apprehensive though, as it’s clear By the River Piedra is not a book for me. I was frustrated by the whole thing. I don’t know if that’s due to the fact that I have no religious convictions of my own, but I couldn’t empathise with any of the characters. There was so much conflict and torment between the mysterious unnamed man’s love for Pilar and his religious faith, and she wanted to be with him but didn’t want him to have to sacrifice his life as a spiritual teacher, and I just found it all ridiculous. I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t see why it had to be an either/or choice, or why there needed to be so much emotional turmoil. I just wanted to shake them both and tell them to get on with their lives. Pilar really bothered me as well, she wanted to be with the man and so he prayed to have his healing powers taken away so he could be with her (again, I don’t understand why), and then it turned out she didn’t want to be with him if he didn’t have his healing powers. None of it made sense to me. I’m still pretty baffled by the whole thing, and I found it enormously unsatisfying, probably because I just couldn’t get my head around any of it.
In case you couldn’t tell, I just really don’t know what to make of By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. It was unlike any book I’ve read before, and I don’t think it’s a read I’ll bother repeating. It wasn’t a complete waste of time though, because it’s convinced me that it is okay to skip individual parts of very loosely linked series, if only to prevent myself from tearing all my hair out in frustration.
See previous Book Review, featuring Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth.