The Fifth Mountain – Review

Book: The Fifth Mountain
Author: Paulo Coelho
Year: 1996

Book Cover
Book Cover

A lot of Paulo Coelho’s literature is centred around folklore and mystical tales. He’s the modern-day teller of age-old stories by picking their essence and creating a whole new perfume. I believe that some stories live on for ages and cut across culture, region and boundaries because their pachydermatous nature comes from their resonance with the ultimate truth of life. While Paulo Coelho’s other works are infusions of assorted anecdotes, The Fifth Mountain is an out-and-out tale from the Hebrew Bible. Not outwardly religious, this story of Elijah cuts across religion and goes deep down to touch the human psyche. Ultimately the story is about a man who relies on no one but himself for everything that life throws at him.

          An endangered Elijah in his home land, Israel, is fleeing from death on the orders of the beautiful but implacable princess Jezebel. After marrying King Ahab of Isreal, Princess Jezebel orders the execution of all the prophets in Israel who refuse to worship the pagan God Baal. Elijah, a carpenter, while running for his life, examines the shortness and meaning of his life. Just when he summons courage to give his life up to the executioner, he is miraculously saved by God. Elijah then flees to Zarephath as commanded by an angel of God. From here on begins his life as a prophet. The angel of God communicates with Elijah by delivering wisdom that he would need to carry out God’s work.

          When Elijah arrives in Zarephath, he is taken in by a widow who he eventually falls in love with. Elijah’s task in Zarephath, known in the book as Akbar, is to spread the word of the One God and falsify the existence of the Phonecian Gods on the Fifth Mountain. Meted out with intense resistance, insinuations, and derision Elijah spends a major part of his life in Akbar. As it has been with most prophets, he finds very few allies and a horde of enemies. Elijah is trapped by the high priest of Akbar who maligns Elijah just as the Assyrians are at Akbar’s doorstep declaring war. Amusingly, the high priest backs the destruction of Akbar because he wants the skill of writing to die down as he perceives it to be a threat. A forsaken Elijah, who was just beginning to win the people’s hearts, is caught off-guard when the Assyrians strike. The Assyrians raze Akbar in the war and Elijah wakes up to a destroyed city and bereaved of the woman he loved.

Fifth Mountain Quote

Post the war, Elijah is no more the prophet who could raise a man from the dead, but just an ordinary man dejected by the loss of his kin and love. Elijah is also left to his own devices by the angel of God, and that is when he realises that all he has is himself. This part of the book is about a man who has suffered a great loss and what he does to overcome it. And this is the high point of the book. How Elijah rebuilds the city of Akbar amidst grave despair and loneliness is stuff that propels human spirit into a position where it can do anything it conceives. Coelho also describes Elijah’s personal struggle with God Himself. He describes how, after a point of time, you’ve got to trust yourself and know that you have the power of free will because God wanted you to make your own choices. You’re unto your own. And that is what I took away from the book.

        The Fifth Mountain is surely a story told many eons ago, but Coelho’s retelling as a novel supplies much needed courage to the simmering human spirit so that it comes unto its own and performs miracles that it is capable of.

          One of the cons of this book is the writing, it is darned simple. However, it is also a reason why the book is much celebrated. But I hoped it would’ve been better. Also, one thing to note is that although there are many characters in the book and though you visualize them all, the only two names used in the book are Elijah and Jezebel.

        To sign off, one can say that this book is certainly not hugely disappointing. Read it to rekindle your spirit. Then go out and challenge the universe to accomplish whatever you want to achieve. Needless to say, the universe will bow down if your spirit doesn’t.


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