A stranger arrives at a sleepy village high in the mountains and shows the disillusioned barmaid, Miss Prym, a bar of gold he has hidden in the woods and tells her of another nine nearby. She must inform the townsfolk of his offer – if one person in the village is murdered by the end of the week, the village will receive the ten bars of gold.
This book is based around choices, two of them. The first is Miss Prym’s – she can choose to steal the one gold bar she knows the location of and run off to the city to pursue her dreams. This would not only help her live the life she always dreamed of, but also protect her neighbours from having to make an agonizing decision. On the other hand, the more moral choice would be to not steal the gold, and not to tell the villagers of the stranger’s offer so that all concerned could preserve their moral integrity. However, should Miss Prym start down this path, the stranger has promised that he will inform the citizens himself and they will likely resent the barmaid for hiding this information and choose her as the sacrificial victim.
The second choice is obviously that of the villagers – whether they should accept the gold offered to them to save their dying village and murder an innocent inhabitant, or let their home wink out of existence, but stay on the side of righteousness.
Paulo Coelho is an immensely talented author who somehow manages to get right inside characters. He did it magnificently with the stranger who is trying to convince himself there is still good left in the world and with Miss Prym, who is facing the most terrifying decision she has ever had to make. Somehow, nobody in the book felt to me like a bad person – some were unlikable.
To me, the essence of this book is good vs evil, and that perhaps it’s not always as clear cut a choice as it seems. There have been many books on this topic already, but not like this one. This is a very specific, very personal look at what people can do when pushed. Religion occasionally comes into it, as does the Devil, but it’s more in a spiritual way.
Reviewed by Arshia V.