Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist

The Alchemist By, Paulo Coelho

Originally published in Brazil in 1988 as "O Alquimista" Translated By, Alan R. Clarke

"Like the one-time bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Alchemist presents a simple fable, based on simple truths and places it in a highly unique situation. And though we may sniff a bestselling formula, it is certainly not a new one: even the ancient tribal storytellers knew that this is the most successful method of entertaining an audience while slipping in a lesson or two. Brazilian storyteller Paulo Coehlo introduces Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who one night dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. And so he's off: leaving Spain to literally follow his dream.

Along the way he meets many spiritual messengers, who come in unassuming forms such as a camel driver and a well-read Englishman. In one of the Englishman's books, Santiago first learns about the alchemists--men who believed that if a metal were heated for many years, it would free itself of all its individual properties, and what was left would be the "Soul of the World." Of course he does eventually meet an alchemist, and the ensuing student-teacher relationship clarifies much of the boy's misguided agenda, while also emboldening him to stay true to his dreams. "My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy confides to the alchemist one night as they look up at a moonless night."
From Amazon.com

This is an amazing book that presents a complex subject with the simplicity of a classic fairy tale.I have to start by saying the writing is simplistic and the characters lack depth. But the story draws you in, and it's simplicity works.  From the shores of Spain to the vast dessert of Africa a young Shepard boy travels to find his "personal legend" and the soul of the world. What he finds along the way is path to enlightenment and peace that we are all searching for.

The Shepard boy, Santiago, awakens from a dream knowing he has to go after a treasure. But where the treasure lies is a mystery to him. He searches out a gypsy fortune teller who tells him he has to travel to the pyramids in Egypt and there he will find his true treasure. In the next town he stops in he meets a strange old man who revels himself as a King and gives him a cryptic piece of advise, that he needs to follow his "personal legend."  Santiago sells his sheep and crosses the straight to Africa where he meets a robber, discovers the Muslim culture, and spends a year selling glass and making a modest fortune. He also learns the next step he needs to take toward his personal legend and his treasure. Everyone he meets has a impact on his life, but no one can tell him exactly what his treasure is. We can see that Santiago has an innocent and innate soul that draws people to him. His is a  lovable character.

His next step is in a caravan crossing the desert where he meets an Englishman who introduces him to the concept of Alchemy, the science of the "soul of the world." The Englishman is on a quest to find a Alchemist who can bring his learning to fruition. As the caravan gets deeper in to the dessert it is waylaid by waring tribes and has to stay in an oasis. Where a chance meeting with a young woman, and the Alchemist, brings Santiago's journey, and his quest for knowledge, to a wonderful conclusion.

In a tried and true formula Mr. Coelho uses the story of the Shepard Boy Santiago as a metaphor for all of us who are searching. He mixes cultures and science seamlessly and introduces the concept of personal legend and destiny. I am so in love with this book. The core message for me is to be true to the desires that are in us. To learn to listen and watch the world around us, and use the universal language of love and peace to communicate with humanity. It can be a daunting concept to convey, but one I related to.

The trick, as I see it, is to follow your personal destiny with balance and to use it for good. It easy to get caught up in the here and now and forget what we really are working toward, Santiago shows us how to stop and balance life. It's really about the discovery of the treasure found within. It's a testament to the transforming  power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts. A message I really needed right now. This is a book I will read again and again, and keep it close by.

Paulo Coelho is one of the bestselling and most influential authors in the world. His books have sold more than 65 million copies in 60 languages. He is also the author of Veronika Decides to Die, Eleven Minutes, The Zahir and many others.

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