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A self-help sheen hangs over this book by the internationally bestselling author of The Alchemist, which reads much more like a collection of bland aphorisms than a work of fiction. It is Jerusalem, the year 1099, and as French soldiers prepare to invade, a group gathers around a trite sage known as "the Copt." The topics broached are wide-ranging and somewhat random: a young woman asks about solitude and the Copt gives her a circuitous answer: "If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself. And if you do not know yourself, you will begin to fear the void. But the void does not exist." A boy, worrying he may be useless, is told: "Don't try to be useful. Try to be yourself; that is enough, and that makes all the difference." Another woman decides that the time is right to ask about elegance and is told that elegance is more about how one wears clothes than the clothes themselves. If Coelho is attempting parody, he has failed, this being both too long and too broad. The wisdom to be found here could be found in many other, better places. Agent: Sant Jordi Asociados (Spain). (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Coelho's quietly beautiful book is difficult to categorize. Unlike many of his novels, it is not an allegory, nor does it revolve around a mystical or physical pilgrimage. Instead, it consists of a series of queries posed by a population under siege and the powerfully simple, yet evocative, answers provided by an essentially unidentified wise man. As Jerusalem is surrounded by belligerent Crusaders in AD 1099, its diverse citizens Jews, Muslims, and Christians, who have lived together in peace for centuries gather in the square to seek the counsel of the Greek, known familiarly as the Copt. The Copt advises them to speak of their daily lives and search their hearts, minds, and souls for questions pertaining to universal truths. As the Copt thoughtfully answers questions posed about a variety of everyday subjects, including solitude, love, utility, luck, miracles, beauty, sex, anxiety, grace, and elegance, he bequeaths to his audience an invisible sword with which to fight intolerance and ignorance. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The sublime Coelho continues to break stylistic boundaries with this series of spiritual musings grounded more in history and morality than in his trademark brand of mysticism.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2010 Booklist