The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
This is a book that has been recommended to me on multiple occasions by several good friends. Flying home to visit my family a few years ago, I stopped in a magazine shop at the airport. They had a really nice looking anniversary edition of this book for sale. I picked it up and started to read the first pages and the inside cover with the synopsis. I was absolutely intrigued; it did in fact sound like something that would have interested me. It would take me a few more months to catch up on the other books that I was simultaneously reading, so that I could eventually get to this one. Finally I could not resist any longer. I read this book in record time! I was completely absorbed in it, and was reading passages out loud to anyone who would listen.
It is hard to categorize this book. It is at the same time a travel book, a philosophy book, a self-help book and a novel all in one. It is inspiring, thought provoking, and full of wisdom. The language over-all is simple, but it speaks to me because I feel as if I did a lot of what the boy did and had some of the same experiences. The boy dreams of travel, of visiting places other than the small farming town he knows. He becomes a shepherd, so that he can travel around and see more of the world. One day he has a dream of hidden treasure to be found near the Egyptian Pyramids. He visits a gypsy to find out the meaning of the dream because, as we learn from her, dreams are the language of God. She tells him that he must go there to find his treasure.
Then he meets a man who calls himself a king. He tells the boy to give him 1/10th of his herd of sheep, and he will in exchange tell him how to find the treasure. The boy thinks about it for a while and then decides to trust the king and gets very important advice about his Personal Legend, what he has always wanted to accomplish, about the Soul of the World, and he also learns that if he wants something badly enough, all the universe conspires in helping him achieve it. The king told him all he had to do was follow the omens. The king also advised against giving up on his dream. He will hear this advice on other occasions when he is at risk of giving it all up, and it is powerful advice which I think everyone needs to hear.
“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation,” the king said. And so the boy is off on his adventure. It was not an easy journey to the Pyramids, and it takes an exceptionally long time, and there is a lot of adventure along the way. On several occasions he finds himself ready to give it all up, but something always pulls him back. He goes through many trials and successes and finally ends up exactly where he is supposed to be. Along the way he meets a crystal merchant, whose life he changed forever, an Englishman, a beautiful woman with whom he falls immediately in love and for whom he once again wants to give it all up, and finally the Alchemist. It is the Alchemist who will finally set him on the path to being able to find his treasure, convinces him that he cannot give up for risk of resentment and losing his treasure forever, and he repeatedly tests him to see if he’s ready.
Some of the most important messages in this book which I could certainly apply to my life are, “People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want”, “when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward,” and “people are afraid to pursue their most important dreams because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.” This of course is but a small sample of the wisdom in this book. So much of it was noteworthy!
What I realized is that despite the popular saying, you really can go home again! He had to travel all the way to the Pyramids of Egypt only to find out that what he had been looking for all his life was right where he had started. However, along the way he had had amazing experiences that he would never have known if he had not gone in search of something. It is a lot like what I have done in my life, and now I know that I had been following the omens, and fulfilling my Personal Legend. When I allowed myself to believe that sometimes taking the long way home is the only way home, I set off on an adventure to Japan to finally find my way home to New Orleans. I had no idea what I was seeking there, or what I would find. What I would in fact find was what I was really meant to do with my life. Along the way, I saw and did amazing things that I would never have had the opportunity to do before, and may never again.
This is a book I could read over and over again.
**** This is an English Book Club selection. See Courses page for details.****