The book is set in a mythical town in the middle of nowhere called Viscos. Viscos is one of those small towns where everybody knows the next person and hence it is impossible not to get involved in your neighbour’s business. The residents lead a traditional ordinary life which the youth find boring and repetitive; because of this, most of them have relocated to big cities. As such, there are no children in Viscos; infact , one of the books lead character Miss Chantal Prym is among the youngest persons in the village.
So the story basically revolves around the battle of good and evil that we face in our daily lives as humans. Just how much are you willing to sell your soul to the devil in order to satisfy your greatest desires? If the devil were to give you the right price, would you commit evil?
While most of us self righteous folks would outrightly deny that they will never sell their souls to the devil, I tend to think you can never really know until you’re faced with the option.
A stranger, a very wealthy man, whose soul has been possessed by the devil because of the frustrations he’s faced in life, comes to Viscos with only one goal in mind; to find out if there really exists good in human beings or everyone is evil to some extent. He comes bearing 11 bars of gold; a token for the villagers if only they commit one thing ; murder an innocent. With Viscos being a town where folks are barely surviving, the gold is capable of delivering them from abject poverty and transforming their lives and those of the generations to come. This leaves the villagers at a very the compromising position; that of choosing between doing the moral thing or protecting their own interests. Miss Chantal is given the hard task of being the devil’s advocate; communicating the Stranger’s intentions to the villagers ; well, at a price of course.
What ensues is an intricately woven story about the constant battle between good and evil in our daily lives in a way that only Paulo Coelho can articulate. The main reason why I love Coelho’s books is the richness of spiritual lessons and the level of fulfilment that one draws from merely reading his texts. This particular one emphasizes the fact that no human being is perfect; we are all based with the daily struggle to do the right thing. How we react to these temptations defines the purity of our souls. There are so many fables and myths knitted into the story; my favourite is one about the Atonement of sins. King Ahab, the founding King of Viscos, created a tradition where every year, the villages would write down 2 lists; one of the sins they have committed; and on the other, sins that God had committed against them eg by acting unfairly towards them. So on the day of Atonement, one would offer up their list of sins , then proceed to those ones that God had committed against them. More of a “ I sinned against you and you against I, so let’s call it even and start over, shall we?”
I found this incredibly interesting. I should start doing this with people and God. Ever had those days when you feel God is being such an asshole towards you?? Well, I have had so many of those and I feel that’s the only way I will be in good terms with Him.
Like most of Coelho’s books, this one has happy ending. Though I felt it was a bit rushed and forced. But oh well, who doesn’t like a book that leaves you with a sweet aftertaste? Nothing like those Nigerian short stories that leave you wide-eyed with awe and fear.
I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who feels a bit lost in the journey of life and needs to be reminded that spirituality is not necessarily seeking for perfection. Each of us faces a constant struggle on a daily and we have to remember that we have enough good in us to overcome. No one is completely good, neither is there anyone who is completely evil.