The Castle in the Pyrenees

My latest read is The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder.

This is another novel by Jostein Gaarder, who never stops to amaze me, by his books full of thought and spirit. The castle in the Pyrenees presents the story of a couple through time, who meet again after 30 years of being separated bluntly, after 5 years of living together inseparable. They both have a new life, family and children, but still share a connection that goes beyond time, and, according to Sulrun, beyond physical realm.

The connection between Steinn, who is now a climatologist, working with weather forecast and analysis, and Sulrun, who is now deeply involved in religious beliefs, is reestablished through the use of e-mail, which is a new way of communication for the two. They meet randomly, but according to Sulrun, not by chance, but with a purpose and a premonition for both of them that they would meet again. The feeling of meeting each other again grows strong until it actually happens.

The discussion between them inevitably gets to the point of their 5 year relationship and the reason behind their separation. Both of them have evolved a lot since their break-up, and it takes some time until they are ready to face the past and think about the present.

Steinn was always the rational, science adept, with a good and clear explanation for everything happening in life. He learned a lot about the Universe, life as it is, and human purpose on Earth. He did not change over the years, and still sharing the same beliefs. The things that happened between them somehow shatter some of his beliefs, and he is willing to change and adapt to something new, that he cannot explain purely by science.

Sulrun on the other hand evolved from a young girl who discovers that life is not eternal, that life will end , to a woman that is absolutely frightened of her end as a human being, of her demise, and this stops her from being happy in her life and enjoying her time as it is. In order to cope with this fear, to find a reason for living and to be able to be happy, she finds shelter in religion, and the belief of afterlife, signs of beyond, and the life of the soul beyond the life of the body.

Their love story is depicted in a strong way, to emphasize on the very strong bond between them, the joy and happiness of youth, discovering and sharing life together, but also the shadow of future separation, end in one way or the other, which is present at all times in Sulrun’s heart.

The bond is severed by a mystical car accident, that leaves both of them shaken to the point they cannot communicate with each other and cannot find each other anymore. They are both young and do not know how to deal with the situation. Steinn is panicked and thinks that their life as it is will end, while Sulrun is affected by the moral and afterlife consequences of their action. When they both have a vision of the victim of the accident, showing herself to them a few days after, they both are in terror and cannot continue their life as it is.

Their beautiful love story is somehow changed forever, but their bond stays, even after 30 years, they can find each other and feel something for each other even at a great distance. Sulrun is convinced that there are certain powers and things beyond our grasp, and tries to tell Steinn, who is very confused in believing something he cannot see. She believes their encounter after 30 years is not random, and that the image of the accident’s victim is a sign from beyond, thus proving in afterlife and that things will not end on this Earth. This is the reasoning behind her comfort as a human being, and the disappearance of the terror of death that she was experiencing.

The author ends the story in a way showing us that the powers beyond might or might not exist, by giving Sulrun a harsh fate, somehow relieving her of her pain and guilt, and giving Steinn the misery of losing the love of his life forever.

Jostein Gaarder has proven to me yet another time that playing with the philosophical themes he usually approaches can create an excellent exercise for the mind, something to think about and something to enjoy for a long time after reading. Approaching life, death, relationship, love, sharing one’s time and fate with someone, and the loss of someone special, all in the same package, makes The Castle in the Pyrenees a great novel, a great read, even if it has a bitter taste like all of Jostein Gaarder’s work, but always leaves the reader with the better part of it.

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