Paulo Coelho's book "Aleph" (2011) interested me because it directly refers to Jorge Luis Borges' short story with the same name (published in the collection "The Aleph and Other Stories" in 1949). Indeed the preliminary of Coelho's book contains the quote:
"The Aleph was about two to three centimetres in diameter, but all of cosmic space was there, with no diminution in size. Each thing was infinite, because I could clearly see it from every point on the universe".
Jorge Luis Borges, 'The Aleph'
Borges' short story, as many of his stories, has a melancholic slow phased plot, filled with references, both implicit and explicit, part fictional part real. It is because of Borges' emphasis on references that it is interesting to see what another author makes of a reference back to Borges. Indeed, as Borges pointed out in "Kafka and His Precursors’": "The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future."
So how does Coelho's work stand up? Unfortunately, I'd say he falls short. Although the Aleph is a central plot device, it does not create a significant reference to Borges, so it ends up feeling slightly pretentious to invoke it. Coelho's Aleph is of a slightly different kind than Borges' in that it is not a tangible object, but rather a specific point in time and space, created by the presence of specific individuals. It has the added property of carrying those individuals (or at least in their minds) to a different point in time, in a previous life, where they re-experience a disastrous event.
The bulk of the story centers around the various personal drama of the party travelling by the Trans-Siberian Express, and the main character's (supposedly Coelho himself) struggle to resolve the conflict in his previous life, within the Aleph. Throw in a bit of populist self motivation and realization, plus some sexual fantasies (because sex sells, right), and we have another Coelho success. It's an easy read, if you manage to ignore the pretentious "grand motivational speeches".
If there's anything to be taken away from Coelho's advice in the book, it's that a warm relaxing shower is a perfect time for reflection and peace of mind. Then again, if you haven't figured that out by now, you probably have a rare case of severe aquaphobia, or you might want to change your boiler.
To sum up, "Aleph" disappointed, and if it hadn't been for the Borges reference, it wouldn't have been of much interest at all. It is a typical Coelho formula to fame and riches: a feel-good populist message, an easy read, and the appearance of intellectual content.