You can always tell the books I enjoyed more based on the length of the blog and my voice in the blog. I would probably skip posts of the books I don’t really like, but it would defeat the purpose of this blog, so instead you get somewhat whinny posts about a book that I don’t understand or just didn’t like, like The Prince.
Whereas when I read a book I truly enjoy you get a true feel for the book and why I’ve enjoyed reading it. Thankfully The Alchemist is of the latter category. Again this is a book I bought ages ago (recognize a pattern) that I never got around to reading. This book was so good I read it in an afternoon (it’s only 170 pages). What I enjoyed most about this novel was the spirituality without the religion. An interesting fact according to Wikipedia (with a legitimate siting) is that the book holds the record for the most translations into another language by a living author.
We follow a young shepherd boy named Santiago as he realizes his personal legend. He has always wanted to travel and thought the life of a shepherd satisfied this until he has a recurring dream which shows him the world is so much bigger than it is. Through his adventures he meets a variety of characters from a gypsy, a king, an alchemist, bandits and thieves, and the love of his life.
As he travels he learns about the world from each person and each story/experience adds to his ability to understand and to speak the language of the world. Coelho uses a specific phrase but it escapes me. The other characters are on their personal journeys as well, some have stalled, others are surging forward, but they all interact with Santiago and contribute to his ability to achieve his personal legend.
Although Santiago attempts to whittle down everything to the most simplistic the reader is not beat over the head by it and this is due to Coelho’s skills as a writer. Coelho’s writing style is easy to read and the beauty of his story is not weighed down by superfluous language. The amount of story and heart Coelho fits into 170 pages is astronomical and harkens back to ancient legends and epics. Each of the characters had their own eccentricities, but not so much as to distract from Santiago’s story—they each provide the necessary lesson and then fade away only to be remembered when Santiago needs reminders of how far he has come from the fields of Andalusian Spain.
Reading this novel excited me, it spurred me on to find more books by Coelho (of which there are plenty) and to read a broader range of books than I generally read. You know it’s a good novel when it inspires you to read or to reflect on your own life. I’m not quite sure what my personal legend is, but I’m guessing I’m still moving towards it.
Quotes from The Alchemist
“When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret to life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” (vii)
“The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering we endured, all the things we had to give up in order to get this far. I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal—when it was only a step away.” (viii)
“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…Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” (130)