Of the three books in the On the Seventh Day trilogy, this was my favorite. It has been almost two years since I read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and Veronika Decides to Die was too institutional for me, but this novel was great and approaches the simplicity and beauty of The Alchemist, but kept the idea of an external catalyst which Veronika Decides to Die had.
As with the last novel it’s difficult to go into this one without revealing too many details. A stranger visits the unchanging village of Viscos and creates an ethical/spiritual dilemma that the entire village must agree or disagree to participate in, all or nothing. As with Coelho’s other novels this novel focuses on very few people, but they are ordinary. He said it best in the author’s introduction,
“Each of the three books is concerned with a week in the life of ordinary people, all of whom find themselves suddenly confronted by love, death and power. I have always believed that in the lives of individuals, just as in society at large, the profoundest changes take place within a very reduced time frame. When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back . A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.” (ix-x)
I was trying to explain Coelho’s novels to a friend yesterday and it was incredibly difficult. And ultimately he said it best with
“The story of one person is the story of all humanity.” (195)
He chooses one topic, in this case temptation, and builds a story around it, but what makes them great are the simplicity of the language (go translators go!) and the universality of the stories/tales. They are all steeped in local lore or history providing a base point which he can refer back to while updating the stories.
Recommendation: This is a close second behind The Alchemist so I would definitely recommend it if you were going to only read a few of his works. The story, as all I’ve read by him, is not original, but he renews and lightens it in such a way as to be refreshing and timeless. I do apologies for the seemingly half-assed response to the novel. I’ve struggled to respond to Coelho because of the simple and yet incredibly complex nature of his stories and the beauty of the language. When someone writes something so beautiful it is very difficult to respond with plane clunky words like I usually use.
Opening Line: “For almost fifteen years, Berta had spent every day sitting outside her front door.”
Closing Line: “The old woman was right: there was no time to lose, though she hoped that her life would be very long indeed.” (Whited out.)