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I’ve had this book in the house for a while now, but never read it because I’d never heard of this author before – it’s my wife’s book. However, ever since I read Veronika Decides To Die last year, I’ve been hooked on Mr Coelho’s writings. Another confession: I never intended to write this review, but circumstances somehow point to the sign that maybe I should – so here it is. I’ve just finished reading The Name Of The Rose. (I bought that book years ago, after watching the movie admittedly, but found the book too obscure in its style, so didn’t bother to read it. Anyway, isn’t it one of those books that everybody owns but doesn’t read?) What does that have to do with The Fifth Mountain? Well, for one thing, both are religious fiction (or spiritual fiction, if you like) – fiction based on religious writings. In this case, it’s the back story of Elijah, one of the foremost prophets of the Old Testament. In the Bible, you don’t get to hear his back story of how he came to be at all, unlike other characters like Solomon, or David, or Moses. In the first book of Kings, Elijah just appears one day as a prophet and slams King Ahab for forsaking the one true God, and promising drought. Next thing you know, Elijah’s left Israel for Phoenicia, surviving on scraps brought to him by crows, returning to Israel only three years later. (The Bible is famous for skipping out “unnecessary” details like that: in the New Testament, save for one incident, Jesus’ childhood is totally ignored.) Paulo Coelho’s tale attempts to fill in the blanks as to what happened in those three years. First, the reason Elijah leaves Israel is because Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, has condemned all prophets of God – they must worship Baal or be executed. After arriving at city of Zarephath (or Ackbar, as the locals call it) and staying with the widow, the young Elijah is regarded as a powerful man who can work miracles (he brings the widow’s son back to life – this is also in the Bible). He is asked to give counsel to the governor when the Assyrian army has massed outside its walls, intending to drive on to Sidon and Tyre in order to claim the Phoenician wealth. Ackbar just happens to be in the way of their warpath. However, Elijah finds he needs counsel himself as he starts falling for the widow? But will that tear him away from his first duty – to return to Israel and rid the country of the beautiful princess Jezebel and her worship of Baal? Elijah’s public sense of duty and his personal feelings soon come into conflict, and he has to battle with his conscience and – even harder to do – the Will of God. Can he be in love with someone and still do what is destined for him? Will loving the widow force him to abandon his duty to both the city and to God? Readers of Paulo Coelho will know that love is his common theme. Not always in the romantic sense – a la romance novels – but an all-consuming love. The personal confrontation in this book bears similar resemblance to his other novel, The Alchemist, where the shepherd boy has to decide whether to abandon his own dream for the girl he loves. It engages the reader in such a way that you will probably find yourself asking the same questions. What is your destiny? Are you fulfilling it? And why are you doing what you do? What is life without love? This is a great book that doesn't let the pace sag even if you are not familiar with the Biblical characters. The themes are so universal that everyone can enjoy this I'm sure. There is a passage from the book where a shepherd and Elijah are discussing how tragic events are unavoidable and how they can be overcome. “It’s not a question of hope in the future, it’s a question of recreating your own past,” he tells Elijah. “(For some people) life was a constant triumph and would go on being one... These people achieved everything they desired because they were not limited by the frustrations of the past... If you have a past that dissatisfies you, forget it now. Imagine a new story to your life and believe in it. Concentrate on those moments in which you have achieved what you desired, and this strength will help you accomplish what you want.” It seems like that’s something we can draw on, in the light what’s been happening in Asia with the “waves of mutilation” and earthquake devastation. Well, at least I think so.
Postscript: Don’t forget to send any form of aid you can to the victims, they need it.
This is, by far, one of the best books by Paulo Coelho to date. It is the wondrous account of the prophet Elijah during his stay in Phoenicia. Normally I don't care for books that fill in the blanks when there is little or no concrete evidence to base it on, but this story serves a purpose. Perhaps the one reason that I look forward to reading Coelho's books are the fact that regardless of one's stance towards the story itself there are within them certain gems of wisdom, but by no means forced them down your throat. Coelho's writing style seems rather simple. Whether that's due to translations between languages or if it is quite simply the way he writes I do not know, but it works quite effectively. He does not become overly descriptive and uses such tools sparingly. The book was propelled by thoughts and actions leaving no time to be bogged down in overly descriptive passages. There is a refreshing feeling that comes with reading both The Alchemist and The Fifth Mountain. I believe this stems from the genuinely positive feel of his books. The truly moving characters are always those who recognize the shortcomings of humanity but press forward hoping to better themselves and accomplish those things which need to be done. Both The Alchemist and The Fifth Mountain are great books, and are well worth the investment. Those who have read Coelho's other works, especially The Alchemist, will be slightly disappointed. The book is just about average at best. I personally have read The Alchemist and The Devil and Miss Prym, but this book did not match upto my expectations. The basic plot is like this - a young Israeli prophet has to flee from his homeland as prophets were being assasinated according to the wishes of the evil princess. He runs to the city of Akbar and takes refuge there. And from then on, the story revolves around his adventures and what all he learns in Akbar. The book does not seem to have any pace or any great climax. It moves constantly at the same pace, and at no point in time, the reader would feel any great excitement. The book goes on and on about wars between men and wars between gods. Though some ideas expressed in the book are worth great amount of thought, the whole book does not convey a solid meaning. The young prophet, Elijah, seems confused half the time, and is constantly visited by two angels, his guardian angel and the angel of the lord (probably Michael, but I am not sure).
The Fifth Mountain is a spiritual fiction that tells the story of prophet Elijah from the bible. In his trademark uncomplicated manner, Coelho talks of the deep philosophy of destiny, doubts, and discoveries in an introspective struggle of the protagonist. Elijah, a young man pronounced to be a prophet, flees his country to avoid being killed by Jezebal, the beautiful princess from Akbar married to the King of Israel, who has ordered her soldiers to slaughter all those who refuse to give up their one God in the name of Bal, the God of Akbar. Coelho tells the tale of the prophet’s discovery of his strength, his weaknesses, love, faith, and the supreme power. As usual, one finds various nuggets of wisdom within the pages of the books. A few favorites are: If you have a past that dissatisfies you, then forget it now. - A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires. - Sadness does not last forever when we walk in the direction of that which we always desired. What fascinates me about this book is the fact that this is not the kind of book that interests me. I am neither into philosophy nor into religious sermons. I am not even sure I agree with the author’s belief most
of the time. All the same, Coelho’s writing is so gripping that one finds oneself mesmerized into reading the whole book. For the simple pleasure of smooth and easy-flowing words, I’d probably pick up yet another book by the author.