By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is a 1994 novella by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, centering on a young couple who is reunited eleven years after their adolescent love. Pilar has transformed with time into a strong and independent woman, but her devoted childhood friend has evolved into a handsome and charismatic spiritual leader who turned to religion as a refuge from his inner conflicts. Reunited at last, they embark on a difficult journey as the long-standing issues with their relationship resurface. As they head to the River Piedra in the French Pyrenees, they explore the future of their relationship and some of life’s biggest questions. Considered a spiritual parable and exploring themes of love, spirituality, and life’s hardships, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and was acclaimed and successful upon its translation and release in the English-speaking world. It is considered one of Coelho’s best works and is widely studied as an example of classic modern Brazilian literature.
By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept centers on a woman named Pilar and her journey to find herself. Early in the book, Pilar is reunited with a childhood friend who has spent the last ten years traveling around the world. He has had the opportunity to learn about different cultures and religions, and is particularly fascinated by the representation of the feminine side of God as it’s represented in countries around the world. He attempts to teach the reserved, cautious Pilar about what he’s learned, and in their time together he frequently tries to get her to open her mind to different possibilities. Pilar was raised to be a studious Catholic, and was told not to question authority. Her parents and teachers raised her to be what they thought would be the perfect Spanish Catholic, but she is unfulfilled. She has had many struggles in her life and has been hurt by people in the past, including her friend. She feels like she has failed the rules of society and has had to suppress her happiness in order to better fit in with what is expected of her. Her struggle to overcome these instincts make up the book’s primary conflict.
Pilar goes on a journey with her friend, as they cross over the border into France. Throughout this journey, she begins to loosen up, but then turns back as her fear of the unknown and feeling uncomfortable win out. Despite it being more uncomfortable to live in her current skin rather than make a change, she is scared to take the leap. When she finally lets herself try something new and opens her heart and her mind to the concept of the feminine side of God, Pilar feels herself being transformed into someone who can truly love and live the way she hopes to. However, her friend is facing a challenging personal conflict as well. He loves her and she reciprocates, but he is still in seminary and is a direct disciple of the Virgin. He is forced to choose who he wants to be intimate with – in order to get another chance at his relationship with Pilar, he must leave seminary and give up his direct communication with the Virgin, a spiritual gift that many people strive for and few have achieved.
Pilar does not want her friend to give up this unique gift, but does find a way to be with him on the banks of the titular river. They form a passionate connection that transcends physical contact and becomes something deeper and more spiritual. The rest of the book explores the concept of love and the virtue of the masculine and feminine sides of God. Coelho presents belief in the Immaculate Conception as the cornerstone of happiness. The narrative argues that it is not enough to simply follow the rules of society and religion, but rather one must believe in them and truly want to be those things. That is the only way to find true spiritual happiness. As the book ends, Pilar has met with her friend and a priest he is close to, and she has discovered both who she truly is and what she wants out of life. She is now ready to take action and achieve it.
Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist, best known for his 1998 novel The Alchemist, which has been translated into over seventy languages and adapted to film and theater. In total, he has published thirty books, beginning with his debut in 1974. Politically active in his home country, he has been the subject of a documentary titled The Pilgrim – Story of Paulo Coelho, and is the founder of The Paulo Coelho Foundation, which archives his papers, diaries, and photographs. He has been awarded many honors and prizes, most notably being named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2007 and a Knight of Arts and Letters in France in 1996.
Cited From: Super Summary