Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist (1988)


Looking to make a change in your life? Tap into your spiritual side? Be inspired? Enjoy a fun adventure tale? I think I can help you out…

Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist

Translated from Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s native Portuguese, The Alchemist follows the adventures of a young Andalusian shepherd who leaves behind the comforts of his Spanish homeland in pursuit of his “Personal Legend”, a hidden treasure buried among the legendary Egyptian Pyramids. Along the way, he meets many characters-a king, a gypsy, an Englishman, a young desert girl and, most importantly, the eponymous alchemist-all of whom assist him in one way or another on his journey toward achieving his Personal Legend.

If, like me, you had never heard of The Alchemist until recently, then you might be surprised to learn that, according to Wikipedia, The Alchemist is the 12th best selling novel in history. It has sold more than 65 million copies and stands as one of only two books released over the past 60 years (along with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) to sell more than 35 million copies. Translated into 67 languages, The Alchemist has developed a fanatical following and has been praised by such public figures as Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and President Bill Clinton. With a list of supporters such as this the big question then becomes, “Why?”.

Well, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, The Alchemist is the kind of book that makes you step back and take a look at your own life and think about the decisions that have led you to where you are. More importantly, this book forces you to look at where your life is going. Coelho’s concept of the “Personal Legend” is a fairly straightforward idea meaning “that which an individual most desires”. Whether it be to sail around the world, become an astronaut or own a golf course, Coelho (through The Alchemist) implores the reader to devote their life’s energies to following their heart and making their Personal Legend a reality.

For the most part, Coelho achieves this aim with resounding success. Consistently throughout the novel, I found myself questioning where I’m headed with my current spiritual, career and general life choices. Especially as someone who is on the cusp of making an essentially life-changing career decision, reading The Alchemist was a unique experience because it made me justify this decision  to myself and myself alone. Pursuit of your Personal Legend can’t be swayed by family or friends nor can it be influenced by societal norms. It is something deeply personal that only an individual can discover and achieve. [Thankfully, upon further contemplation I am happy with my choice.]

The Alchemist, though intrinsically challenging to the reader, is an extremely easy book to get through; I finished it in only a matter of hours. It reads very much like a children’s fairytale and contains the innocence of a fairytale, as well: there is no sex, no drugs and minimal (essentially peripheral) alcohol and violence. This simplicity is not only part of its charm but it is crucial to its effectiveness as a tool of inspiration. Fables and parables such as The Alchemist thrive on simplicity but their receptivity is also largely dependent upon the story. In finding this balance, Coelho is quite successful as he weaves an engaging bildungsroman adventure with his underlying lessons and messages without neglecting nor over-emphasizing one over the other. There have been countless other allegories, fables and self-help books written throughout history, and the immense international success of The Alchemist is testament to Coelho’s ability to put a profound message behind a simple story better than nearly anyone else before him.

Many people have called The Alchemist a “life-changing” book. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. It is easy to poke holes in books such as this one: economic disadvantage, inherited family responsibility and unavoidable events (e.g. disease, disaster) are just some of the obstacles that would keep one from going after their Personal Legend. However, ignoring my internal pessimist (although some would say realist), The Alchemist is one of a handful of novels, particularly of the fiction persuasion, that has ever moved me to self-examination or consideration of some of life’s deeper questions: Why are we here? What is my Personal Legend? What is stopping me from achieving that dream? The Alchemist asks all of these questions of the reader and, in the end, of mankind as a whole. It is a book that sets out to inspire people and, in my case, achieves exactly that. To put it in the simplest terms, I will quote my good friend, Doug: “After you read The Alchemist you just want to make plays on life.” Well said, Doug, well said.

Accompanying Drink Suggestion
Rioja wine
This smooth, flavorful wine hailing, like our protagonist, from Spain is generally defined by a combination of fruitiness and acidity with “notes of dusty earth, dry herbs and leather”. These contrasting flavors compare to the changing surroundings of the young shepherd who leaves the rich lands of Spain for the course sands of North Africa. Furthermore, the Rioja’s main grape is tempranillo whose name is derived from the Spanish “temprano”, meaning early, because it ripens weeks before most other Spanish wines. Again, this trait can be compared to The Alchemist’s coming-of-age story which comes at a younger age than for most others yet results in a beautiful and enjoyable finish.

If You Liked This, You Might Also Like…
Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, The Bible, Any of Coelho’s other works

Rating

4.5 out of 5 stars

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