Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist

by Rachel Baker on March 18, 2009

I just had the pleasure of reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend it.  I would venture to bet it doesn’t matter what your favorite genre is, this book is one of those timeless publications that can be enjoyed by every reader. This book spoke to me in a very profound way.  I think I read The Alchemist at one of the most opportune times in my life – a crossroads in my journey of self-discovery from who I was to who I am to who I will be.

The premise of the story about a Shepard boy named Santiago who leaves his flock to find a treasure he kept seeing in a recurring dream.  Along the way, he learns about the secrets of “the universe” and begins to understand the power of listening to your heart and following your dreams.  There is a great deal of reference to a “Personal Legend”.  Early on (p 21) Personal Legend is explained as:

It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish.  Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.  At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible.  They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives.  But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it is impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.

The Alchemist is a beautifully simple story with a profound meaning that smacks the reader in the face and says “what the hell have you been doing with your life? Did you forget how to listen to your heart – because it wasn’t so long ago that you dreamed of being something else.”

Wait, what?  Don’t we all try to listen to our hearts?  Well, here’s the harsh truth in The Alchemist:  There’s a fabulous little section about listening to our hearts and the explanation that children listen to their hearts without reservation.  As we get older, our heart becomes afraid of suffering and over time, begins to quiet down because we’ve really stopped hearing what our hearts want.  Our hearts know what our personal legend is, but our brains begin to lead us down paths that result in forgetting what it is our personal legend is.  We forget to follow our dreams, we no longer see that we settle for what might be easier than “the journey.”  OR, as Santiago did, we search for the treasure without even realizing its right in front of our faces, right outside our front door; and we go on this long journey of self-discovery, only to realize all we had to do was open our eyes and not be consumed by the daily grind.

Sadly, we forget

Its the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

One aspect to the story which surprised me were the religious/spiritual undertones of The Alchemist. I had no idea this book was so rich in its spiritual value.  When I finished the book, I could think of no other way it could it have been written without all the references to god, religion and spirituality.  The interesting thing about this to me is I believe this book will speak to readers from any religious walk of life.  The author, Coelho, said in an interview found at the back of the book, “all religions point to the same light.  In between the light and us, sometimes there are too many rules” (p.181, HarperCollins 2006).  I also believe readers who have a deep sense of spirituality without the discipline of religion will find this book just as intriguing.

The Alchemist is one of the most inspirational books I’ve read in an extremely long time – and will probably be placed at the top of the Old Musty Books list of all time inspirational books.  I highly recommend The Alchemist to everyone from all walks of life – no matter what your beliefs may be – there is something for everyone in the simple story of Santiago, the Shepard boy.

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