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A charming read
The Alchemist is the first novel by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and this edition is translated by Alan. R. Clarke. It is the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearning to travel motivates him to take a chance and search for his destiny. Along the way he encounters a Gypsy, a King, a thief, a merchant, an Englishman, a camel driver, the love of his life, a Tribal Chief and of course, the Alchemist. He leaves Spain, travels to Africa, to the Pyramids, earns money and loses it, and learns about much along the way, including the Soul of the World, The Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. There is lots of profound wisdom contained in this little story: “It’s not what enters men’s mouths that’s evil,” said the Alchemist. “It’s what comes out of their mouths that is.” “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.” “….the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” “…when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” A charming read.
The Alchemist-simple and inspiring but lacking in power to awe some readers
Before I ever opened this book, I had heard that it was special and different than most other books. So, the first time I picked it up I was surprised by how short it was along with how large the print looked. This was not a Tale of Two Cities, or a War & Peace, but I remembered that it was supposed to be one of those classic books of our time. Excitedly, I jumped into my reading and finished in about three days.
I don’t know if I can agree with the praise Paulo Coelho includes in the introduction he wrote for the novel. He cites how it has been translated into 56 languages and sold more than twenty million copies but does make sure to state that the reason for this success is unknown to him. I had my hopes and doubts going into this short story that was supposedly so good. However, I must admit I was surprised in certain manners and ultimately unimpressed in others.
Coelho founds his entire story on one idea: All individuals are connected to the universe and are called upon to fulfill a mission in life, a “personal legend”. Coehlo teaches that the universe “prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.”
Coelho does a very good job of illustrating how once you realize your “personal mission” and truly want it, “all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” Many dead ends in the story turn out to be just beginnings to a new path. Coelho excels at creating these realistic problems so that the reader feels pulled into these situations and is easily able to ask themselves what they would do in the same situation.
Coelho did lose me near the end of the story as he attempted to expand on the idea of a living, inter-connected universe, trying to show how magic, destiny, and a myriad of other “mythical” themes are real and can assist each person in their quest to find and accomplish their “personal legend”. I believe that there are forces in the world that work in my favor, but as a reader, I have trouble relating the magical experiences of the young shepherd boy to my own life.
Essentially a well written, yet profoundly simple book, The Alchemist seems to be a feel-good book that could become something akin to a Bible for those who feel lost in life, or little more than an easy read for those who already feel they have found their “personal legend”.