Books by Margaret Jull Costa

BERTA ISLA by Javier Marías
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 7, 2019

"Skilled and provocative, as always, but not one of the author's best."
Spanish novelist Marías (Between Eternities, 2017, etc.) revisits perennial themes—the mutability of truth, the untrustworthiness of the powerful, the vagaries of human behavior—in a brooding tale of lives darkened by separation and deception. Read full book review >
MAC'S PROBLEM by Enrique Vila-Matas
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 16, 2019

"Diary, essay, thriller, conspiracy theory, posthumous memoir, novel—Vila-Matas uses all the materials to construct his latest metafictional fun house."
A Barcelonian diarist unravels into his devotion for literature. Read full book review >
BETWEEN ETERNITIES by Javier Marías
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Sept. 4, 2018

" A lively collection, on the whole, from a man of the world who is most comfortable on his own turf.
"
Portrait of the artist as a well-traveled sophisticate, unsentimental littérateur, and cranky film critic. Read full book review >
NEVADA DAYS by Bernardo Atxaga
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 10, 2018

"Atxaga has taken in a lot about the peculiarities of desert living, but he's only half-heartedly attempted to deliver a full-bodied work of fiction about it."
A Basque novelist takes a detour in Reno and contemplates his Spanish heritage alongside the American desert landscape. Read full book review >
THE COLLECTED STORIES OF MACHADO DE ASSIS by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 12, 2018

"Essential to students of Latin American and world literature."
A welcome omnibus edition of short fiction by the writer widely considered the greatest to have come out of Brazil. Read full book review >
THE BOOK OF DISQUIET by Fernando Pessoa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 29, 2017

"Cheerlessly brilliant and full of memorable observations ('Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily'): just the thing for the young goth in the family and a fine introduction to a writer deserving more attention."
Complete edition of a haunted autobiographical novel—or is it a fictionalized autobiography?—that has emerged as an existentialist classic in the 80-plus years since its author's death. Read full book review >
OUT IN THE OPEN by Jesús Carrasco
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 4, 2017

"Harshly and elegantly told; a quest that feels both old and new."
A stark debut novel details a young boy's flight from danger across a desiccated, dangerous land. Read full book review >
THE ILLUSTRIOUS HOUSE OF RAMIRES by Eça de Queirós
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 1, 2017

"A touch long but with never a wasted word. Fans of Vargas Llosa and Saramago will find a kindred spirit in these pages."
Late, reflective work by de Queirós (1845-1900), widely considered Portugal's greatest novelist. Read full book review >
THUS BAD BEGINS by Javier Marías
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 2016

"Another challenging, boundary-stretching work from Marías, complete with a jaw-dropping last-chapter revelation."
The eternally fraught question of whether it is better to punish or forgive takes both personal and political forms in the celebrated Spanish novelist's latest (The Infatuations, 2013, etc.). Read full book review >
VAMPIRE IN LOVE by Enrique Vila-Matas
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 6, 2016

"Odd stories with a bite: cynical, funny, and often puzzling."
Barcelona-based novelist Vila-Matas (Because She Never Asked, 2015) serves up a collection of beguiling short stories. Read full book review >
ON THE EDGE by Rafael Chirbes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 19, 2016

"A moving, densely detailed portrait of people without hope."
One of Spain's leading novelists, who died in August 2015, tackles the malaise that has swept his country in the wake of the Great Recession. Read full book review >
SKYLIGHT by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Dec. 2, 2014

"More conventional and less political than the later work that established the author's reputation but an early sign of considerable promise and spirited storytelling."
Rarely has a novel with a publication delayed as long as this one's proven such a pleasure. Read full book review >
TRISTANA by Benito Pérez Galdós
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 14, 2014

"A strong entry for a college course on feminism and literature, this is too contrived and didactic to do well outside the world of required reading."
This love triangle presents a distinctive heroine but more archaic melodrama than those outside academia are likely to enjoy. Read full book review >
THE FALL by Diogo Mainardi
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Oct. 7, 2014

"A singularly compelling memoir."
A father finds his life transformed when his son is born with cerebral palsy, as illuminated through this masterfully written memoir. Read full book review >
DIARY OF THE FALL by Michel Laub
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 26, 2014

"A spare and meditative story that captures the long aftereffects of tragedy."
A childhood prank gone wrong prompts one man's reckoning with his family's Holocaust history in this recursive, astringent novel, the author's first published in English. Read full book review >
ADULTERY by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 19, 2014

"More trite truthiness from Coelho."
A Swiss journalist strives to redress the meaninglessness of her life with even more meaningless sexual encounters in Coelho's latest pseudo-philosophical screed. Read full book review >
THE INFATUATIONS by Javier Marías
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 15, 2013

"Blindingly intelligent, engagingly accessible—it seems there's nothing Marías can't make fiction do. No wonder he's perennially mentioned as a potential Nobel laureate."
An apparently random street murder sparks musings on shades of guilt and the mutability of truth in the distinguished Spanish writer's latest (Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, 2007, etc.). Read full book review >
SEVEN HOUSES IN FRANCE by Bernardo Atxaga
Released: Sept. 4, 2012

"Like Heart of Darkness, with which similarities abound, this narrative is both tragic and traumatic."
The title alludes to the brutal exploitation of rubber-tappers in the early-20th-century Congo, for Capt. Lalande Biran of the Belgian Force Publique has promised his Parisian wife seven houses with the proceeds of his licit and illicit dealings. Read full book review >
CAIN by José Saramago
Released: Oct. 4, 2011

"A pleasing, elegantly written allegory."
Why would a dedicated communist and atheist turn to the Bible as the theme for his final novel? Because the Bible is literature, and literature in a way that the best writers have long recognized—and the late Saramago (Small Memories, 2011, etc.) is one of the best. Read full book review >
THE LAND AT THE END OF THE WORLD by António Lobo Antunes
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 23, 2011

"More effective as an indictment of colonial war than a psychological study. "
This semi-autobiographical novel about Portugal's war in Angola was originally published in 1979. Read full book review >
SMALL MEMORIES by José Saramago
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 11, 2011

"A nonfictional footnote to a brilliant career in fiction."
A slim, elliptical, often poetic memoir by the late Portuguese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Read full book review >
PIRATES OF THE LEVANT by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 2, 2010

"First-rate entertainment, from one of the masters."
Heaving bosoms and hyperbolic derring-do abound in this sixth volume of the acclaimed Spanish author's series of period swashbucklers (The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, 2009, etc.). Read full book review >
THE CAVALIER IN THE YELLOW DOUBLET by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 3, 2009

"Lightweight, pleasant and unobjectionable."
Pérez-Reverte (The King's Gold, 2008, etc.) returns to familiar territory in 17th-century Spain, dispatching Captain Diego Alatriste for a fifth round of swordplay, gamesmanship and swashbuckling romance. Read full book review >
THE FAT MAN AND INFINITY by António Lobo Antunes
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 1, 2009

"An exemplary work of writerly autobiography."
Lively, wholly enjoyable memoir by prolific Portuguese novelist Antunes (What Can I Do When Everything's on Fire?, 2008, etc.). Read full book review >
DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 6, 2008

When Portugal's José Saramago received the 1998 Nobel Prize, it seemed a fitting climactic acknowledgement of a brilliant career of a stubbornly independent genius who—like Tolstoy and Verdi and Picasso in their times, the late Saul Bellow and the ever underrated Hortense Calisher in our own—had demonstrated unimpaired creative power well into old age. Read full book review >
THE KING’S GOLD by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Released: Aug. 14, 2008

"For all the author's customary elegance, this is one of the weaker novels in the series."
The fourth in Pérez-Reverte's series of five historicals about the Spanish Captain Alatriste (The Sun Over Breda, 2007, etc.) is long on ambiance but short on plot. Read full book review >
BRIDA by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 2008

"This patchy mélange of vaguely Gnostic sounding aphorisms and not much action—climaxing with a BYOB witch-initiation party—will mostly appeal to Coelho's diehard devotees."
New Age savant Coelho (The Witch of Portobello, 2007, etc.) whitewashes witchcraft. Read full book review >
THE MAIAS by Eça de Queirós
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 30, 2007

"Slow-moving and elaborate, by modern tastes: but a founding work of modern Portuguese literature, hailed by José Saramago as a masterwork."
A 19th-century Portuguese epic is finally put into readable modern English, revealing a strange tale of decline and fall. Read full book review >
THE WITCH OF PORTOBELLO by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 22, 2007

"A disappointing rehash of pretty conventional spirituality."
Coelho (The Devil and Miss Prym, 2006, etc.) returns to his favored (and incredibly successful) territory of spiritual questing in this tedious account of a young woman's ascendancy as a guru. Read full book review >
SEEING by José Saramago
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 10, 2006

"Very nearly equal to the magnificent Blindness: another invaluable gift from a matchless writer."
Passive political defiance stirs up a whirlwind of intrigue, repression and bureaucratic insanity in the 1998 Nobel laureate's 12th translated novel. Read full book review >
THE ZAHIR by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

"One final gem of wisdom: 'It is always important to know when something has reached its end.' The Zahir ends on page 298. You're welcome."
On the road again—to spiritual and sexual fulfillment, as promised by the megabestselling Brazilian author of The Alchemist . Read full book review >
YOUR FACE TOMORROW by Javier Marías
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: June 24, 2005

"Not the easiest reading, but should find its fans among intrepid English-speakers undaunted by works in translation. "
Dense, acrobatic stream-of-consciousness exploring the political and personal ramifications of the violation of a confidence, by Spanish novelist Marias (The Man of Feeling, 2003, etc.). Read full book review >
BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS by Luis Fernando Verissimo
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: May 31, 2005

"Think Dan Brown is the craftiest cryptographer in town? Nevermore."
Murder at an Edgar Allan Poe symposium pairs a modest, middle-aged scholar with his aging idol, in an exquisite feat of literary legerdemain by Brazil's best-selling writer. Read full book review >
THE DOUBLE by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

"Nevertheless, it's clearly the work of a great writer, whose entire oeuvre eloquently dramatizes the paradox (memorably stated by Maria de Paz) that 'Chaos is only order waiting to be deciphered.' "
The theme of shared identity, treated by such masters as Poe, Stevenson, and Dostoevsky, animates the 1998 Nobel winner's latest. Read full book review >
ELEVEN MINUTES by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 1, 2004

"Down-to-earth dialogue and detail about classy whoring: one of Coelho's strongest."
The Brazilian Coelho, whose inspirational fables have sold about 50 million copies in 150 countries in 57 languages, at times persuades reviewers with his talent but often is seen as gucky and spiritually challenged. Read full book review >
THE YELLOW RAIN by Julio Llamazares
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

"Little plot, and somewhat static, but suffused with a poetic intensity that rivets the reader's attention to the page: a fine introduction to the work of a very accomplished novelist."
An old man awaits his solitary death in an abandoned village in Spain's Pyrenees Mountains: a limpid 1998 novel, its Spanish author's first to appear in English translation. Read full book review >
THE MAN OF FEELING by Javier Marías
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 30, 2003

Marías (Dark Back of Time, 2001, etc.) exhaustively analyzes a "reasonably famous" operatic tenor's inchoate infatuation with a married woman he scarcely knows. Read full book review >
WARRIOR OF THE LIGHT by Paulo Coelho
Released: March 1, 2003

"Feeble."
Brazilian Coelho (renowned for The Alchemist, 1993) has sold over 35 million copies worldwide and been translated into 54 languages. His latest may end up in the same enviable boat. Read full book review >
THE CAVE by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 2002

"We'll say it again: Saramago is the finest living novelist, bar none."
Far from resting on his laurels, Portugal's 1998 Nobel laureate, now 80, brings us yet another ruefully comic and disturbing allegorical tale—a worthy companion to its superlative immediate predecessors Blindness (1998) and All the Names (2000). Read full book review >
THE PAINTER OF BIRDS by Lídia Jorge
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 1, 2001

A lyrical memory novel—the eighth by a Portuguese writer who recently shared a literary prize with Nobel laureate José Saramago—consists of its unnamed narrator's fragmented remembrance of, and speculations about, her vagrant father. She is a 15-year-old whose romantic imagination embroiders lavishly (though not ingenuously) on the few facts her scattered family choose to reveal. He (the eponymous artist whose specialty is avian images) is an amoral egoist "interested only in the horizons of his own land . . . . " Jorge doesn't miss the irony of a "painter of birds" who lacks a homing instinct, and her subtly constructed tale builds slowly into a devastating portrait of the artist as a monster that cannot be caged or tamed. Saramago himself has praised The Painter of Birds, and it's easy to see why. Read full book review >
HUNTING THE LAST WILD MAN by Angela Vallvey
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 1, 2001

"Funny, fresh, and briskly written: a good start by a quick study."
A raucous debut by Spanish author Vallvey, with Gypsies, jewel thieves, morticians, and sibling rivalry (female variant) all mixed into one palette like so many shades of lurid crimson. Read full book review >
THE TRAGEDY OF THE STREET OF FLOWERS by Eça de Queiroz
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Dec. 6, 2000

A previously unpublished novel, not quite completed before the death of the great Portuguese realist (1845-1900), that appeared in Portugal in 1980, over the objections of Eça's heirs. It reads like a finished book similar in scope and narrative authority to such Balzacian marvels as The Crime of Father Amaro and The Maias. The depiction of Lisbon hoi polloi aping the manners of Parisian sophisticates stings bracingly, but the central plot—an incestuous love affair seeded with doom for all involved and in its wake—obviously explains the novel's undeserved notoriety. A significant addition to a magnificent—and still inexplicably underrated—body of work. Read full book review >
ALL THE NAMES by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

"Mischievous, saturnine, and commandingly eloquent fiction. "
The resonant themes of identity and autonomy are examined with keen precision and rich humor in the Portuguese Nobel laureate's most recent (1997) fiction, a novel that compares very interestingly with Saramago's fascinating The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1997). Read full book review >
SÉBASTIEN ROCH by Octave Mirbeau
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 24, 2000

The "decadent" Mirbeau (1848-1917) is best known for his florid exercises in sensuality, Torture Garden and The Diary of a Chamber-maid (this latter the source of two famous films). Here, an (1890) novel, the completion of a partially autobiographical trilogy, portrays the foreshortened manhood of the eponymous Sébastien, a hopeful French provincial youngster who endures brutally humble beginnings and the various hardships of a Jesuit college, then perishes on a WWI battlefield. Sébastien is a kind of tabula rasa onto whom others' romantic and sexual longings are projected, without his full complicity with (or understanding of) the passions he innocently arouses. Mirbeau's superbly controlled period piece is, accordingly, both a keen portrayal of the idealism and solipsism of youth and a welcome reminder of the genius of a writer who has probably always been rather seriously underrated. Read full book review >
VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 7, 2000

" Imagine peering into the very heart of the mystical rose in Dante's Paradise and finding the neon injunction: 'TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.'"
A touching, if overexplicit, fable about learning to live in the face of death. Read full book review >
THE TALE OF THE UNKNOWN ISLAND by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1999

This richly enigmatic short story, published last year by Portugal's reigning Nobel laureate (Blindness, 1998, etc.), is a mischievous and thoughtful satire on ruling elites and bold dreamers, cast in the form of revisionist fairy-tale. One day an unidentified man knocks at the door of a royal castle and demands that its king (of a likewise unspecified country) give him a boat: "To go in search of the unknown island." The king at first protests that nothing unknown exists any longer (according to his royal geographers); but then, worn down by persistent petitioners—and in spite of himself piqued by the stranger's boldness—relents. The cleaning woman, who has overheard all, joins forces with the man (though a crew cannot be assembled), and their hopes of sailing away to this imprecise Xanadu or Shangri-la are resolved only by the man's complex concluding dream, in which this transparent parable of aspiration ("If you don't step outside yourself, you'll never discover who you are") opens into a vision (of their ship as "a forest that sails and bobs upon the waves") that assumes the dimensions of creation myth. This delightfully cryptic fiction incorporates vivid imagery, aphoristic concision, superbly wry dialogue, and subtly layered levels of meaning: it's variously "about" complacent bureaucracies resistant to change, visionaries who are both courageous enough to reach beyond and unable to see the mud below for the stars above, and—just possibly—Christopher Columbus's successful petition for the reluctant Spanish monarchy's support of his great adventure (in this respect, it is perhaps most closely related to Saramago's witty allegory The Stone Raft, 1995). The Swedes knew what they were doing when they honored Saramago. He may be the world's greatest living novelist. Read full book review >
THE FAREWELL ANGEL by Carmen Martín Gaite
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 16, 1999

This remarkably intricate 1994 novel by the veteran Spanish author (of, most recently, Variable Cloud, 1996) won her country's National Prize for Literature. It reveals, through a series of skillfully juxtaposed overlapping scenes (set both in the present and in a painstakingly remembered past), the ongoing ordeal of Leonardo Villalba, recently released from prison (for his complicity in an unspecified 'scandal—) and now compelled to explore both the mystery of his wealthy parents" deaths in an automobile accident and the enigma of his own detached, affectless personality. The key to these secrets is Hans Christian Andersen's tale "The Snow Queen," which bears crucial symbolic relevance to Leonardo's emotional opacity, the imperious grandmother who essentially raised him, and the strange new owner of Quinta Blanca, the clifftop house where the seeds of Leonardo's compromised manhood were sown. A Proustian journey into the interior, a dazzling psychodrama—and, arguably, one of the best novels out of Spain in recent decades. Read full book review >
THE FENCING MASTER by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1999

Another colorful novel of intrigue from accomplished Spanish author Perez-Reverte (The Seville Communion, 1998, etc.). The setting is Madrid in 1868: a time of political unrest as self-indulgent Queen Isabelle II's hold on the throne grows shaky and numerous anti-royalist and revolutionary groups jostle for advantage. At the same time, tradition reposes serenely in the virtually cloistered life of the suave Don Jaime Astarloa, an aging "fencing master" who supports himself by teaching his art to Madrid's nobility while planning his treatise on "the unstoppable thrust"—to be written as soon as he develops and masters this ultimate skill. A cryptic prefatory flash-forward is followed by some rather turgid (flatly translated?) exposition before Perez-Reverte efficiently places Don Jaime at the center of an exfoliating chain of intrigue whose individual developments are keyed to fencing moves and terms ("The Short Lunge," "Glissade," etc.). A beautiful young woman, Adela de Otero, persuades the initially reluctant master to tutor her and proves surprisingly worthy—in crisp, witty scenes charged with erotic tension. A marquis to whom Don Jaime introduces her is murdered under circumstances that point to Adela (who has inconveniently vanished); and a mutilated corpse that appears to be hers is dredged up from a river. A Javert-like police chief (Campillo) and a luckless journalist (Carceles) become involved, and signs both of a plot against the throne and of a murderous double agent deepen Don Jaime's panic and confusion (amusingly counterpointed by the "eternal polemics" exchanged among his cronies at the ironically named Cafe Progreso). A climactic surprise meeting concludes with the master's serendipitous performance of that "perfect thrust"—at a decidedly opportune moment. Not quite equal to PÇrez-Reverte's very best, though it succeeds admirably both as a vivid picture of an unfamiliar culture and as high, sophisticated entertainment. Read full book review >
BLINDNESS by José Saramago
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

"Another masterpiece."
The embattled relationships among the people of a city mysteriously struck by an epidemic of blindness form the core of this superb novel by the internationally acclaimed Saramago, the Portugese author of, most recently, The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1997). Read full book review >
THE FIFTH MOUNTAIN by Paulo Coelho
Released: March 11, 1998

A huge improvement over Brazilian author Coelho's last, the gucky religious romance By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1996). The carpenter Elijah, at age 23, knows he's a prophet because an angel keeps visiting him and giving him orders on what to do with his life. The Israelites and their One God live under the heels of the Phoenicians and of the slinky Jezebel of Samaria, worshipper of Baal. Jezebel sends her troops and priests out to slay all Israelite prophets, of whom there are many, and so Elijah's angel tells him to flee to the desert, where a crow will feed him daily. Indeed, the crow not only feeds him but talks to him as well, although Elijah insists that he's really talking only with himself. Then the angel appears again, this time telling Elijah that he must avenge the Lord—a plan that includes his going to Akbar and living with a widow. The widow at first resists taking him in. And when her boy dies, the townsfolk take the Israelite's presence as a curse and the cause of the child's death. The priests send Elijah up on Baal's Fifth Mountain, where they assume he'll be consumed by fire. Instead, of course, his angel appears and tells him to return to the widow and raise her boy from the dead. This he does, though the priests don't accept the miracle. In a later test of faith, Elijah, triumphing over these same priests, sets in motion a series of events leading both to Jezebel's death and Baal's humbling. Eventually, Elijah—still alive—is carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire. Compellingly, everyone keeps keen score on the gods as if they are strangely real rival sports teams. Coelho meanwhile handles religion, politics, battles, plagues, the earthshaking arrival of the alphabet, and the destruction and rebuilding of Akbar with realism, suspense, and down-to-earth dialogue. Surprisingly persuasive storytelling. Read full book review >
BY THE RIVER PIEDRA I SAT DOWN AND WEPT by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1996

By the Brazilian author of The Alchemist (1993) and the nonfictional The Valkyries: An Encounter with Angels (1995), a more mature work of fiction that may sell big. Coelho adds fiber to his usual dish of inspirational spun-sugar with this new Christian romance, set in Spain and the Pyrenees. The story follows practical law student Pilar, who at 28 has lost her faith and who suddenly finds herself pursued by a childhood friend she hasn't seen for ten years. One day in December, she receives a letter inviting her to a lecture on religion that that long-lost friend will give in Madrid. Pilar finds that he's now a believer in the miracle of the "Magic Moment," an instant in time when God gives us a chance "to change everything that makes us unhappy." He's also a fervent believer in the Virgin Mary, the "feminine face of God." Has her friend become a seminarian, as he's suggested in a letter to her? Pilar doesn't know, but he wines and dines her and asks her to accompany him on a trip. Soon the two are sharing confidences (but not their bodies), while visiting churches and shrines, including Lourdes. This is mostly a two-character novel, with a priest used for exposition and as a means of filling in the background of Pilar's beloved (who remains nameless, being referred to simply as "he" in the narrative) as a Charismatic healer. Yes, he has the gift of laying on of hands, granted him by the Virgin when he spoke to her in tongues at a meeting of Charismatics. Even Pilar finds she can speak in tongues. Mild erotic tension grows as The Braes of Madison County (will martyr Meryl run off with Clint?) meets The Garden of Allah (will disillusioned Dietrich wed deserter Trappist Boyer?) and Love demands that Pilar's beloved abandon healing for sexual/spiritual fulfillment. Sex and God whipped into a tasty mayonnaise. Read full book review >
THE VALKYRIES by Paulo Coelho
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

A facile New Age story in which the author and his wife are initiated into the cult of angels by a band of women bikers in the Mojave Desert. Coelho (The Alchemist, 1993) tells how, at the bidding of his "Master," a wealthy businessman, he and his wife, Chris, go off into the desert for 40 days to look for his guardian angel. They find their enlightenment first from Gene, a young man who lives in a trailer, and finally from eight women, known as the Valkyries, who roam the desert on motorcycles and whose wild leader, Valhalla, becomes the couple's mystagogue. Coelho's basic message is that Paradise is open and angels are present if only we break the pact of our self-betrayal and learn to conquer fear and the distractions of our "second mind." Unfortunately, he fails to go anywhere with this potentially exciting but hardly original vision. What he offers is a kind of doctrinal salad in which belief in angels, channeling, and casual sex are mixed with references to Magic rites, Catholic worship, and reincarnation. Coelho uses his characters to emphasize the dubious position that spiritual knowledge can be gained without any connection to how one lives. At times his wisdom turns out to be the familiar exhortation to follow our dreams, and he asserts, without clarification, that we are all manifestations of the Absolute. Coelho's ignorance and superficiality are most blatant when he tells us that St. Mary of Egypt was canonized for her promiscuity and is remembered by almost no one today, whereas in fact, she was converted during her famous visit to Jerusalem, spent the rest of her life as a penitent, and is solemnly commemorated every year by the Orthodox Church all over the world. More pap for the spiritually challenged. Read full book review >
THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1993

Coelho is a Brazilian writer with four books to his credit. Following Diary of a Magus (1992—not reviewed) came this book, published in Brazil in 1988: it's an interdenominational, transcendental, inspirational fable—in other words, a bag of wind. The story is about a youth empowered to follow his dream. Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd boy who learns through a dream of a treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. An old man, the king of Salem, the first of various spiritual guides, tells the boy that he has discovered his destiny: "to realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation." So Santiago sells his sheep, sails to Tangier, is tricked out of his money, regains it through hard work, crosses the desert with a caravan, stops at an oasis long enough to fall in love, escapes from warring tribesmen by performing a miracle, reaches the pyramids, and eventually gets both the gold and the girl. Along the way he meets an Englishman who describes the Soul of the World; the desert woman Fatima, who teaches him the Language of the World; and an alchemist who says, "Listen to your heart" A message clings like ivy to every encounter; everyone, but everyone, has to put in their two cents' worth, from the crystal merchant to the camel driver ("concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man"). The absence of characterization and overall blandness suggest authorship by a committee of self-improvement pundits—a far cry from Saint- Exupery's The Little Prince: that flagship of the genre was a genuine charmer because it clearly derived from a quirky, individual sensibility. Coelho's placebo has racked up impressive sales in Brazil and Europe. Americans should flock to it like gulls. Read full book review >