Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Alchemist

Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coehlo
Year: 1988
Rating: 2 (go and buy, but don't go at 4:30 AM)

I opened The Alchemist after leaving it on my bookshelf for nearly a year (it was given to me for a Christmas gift) and finished it in two sittings. Although it was translated from Portuguese, it reads very smoothly and almost as if it was written in your own language- or the Language of the World, as it were. Paulo Coehlo's masterful telling of a Spanish boy's journey to find his purpose in life is enthralling and full of a sort of wisdom we all knew but didn't realize.
The story begins in the Spanish countryside, introducing us to Santiago, an eighteen year-old shepherd. However, that is the only time in the entire book where the boy's name is used (odd, I thought. Why did he give him a name at all?). Santiago is the sort of boy you knew growing up but never noticed; he was always staring at the sky, thinking about his life and how it affected the world as a whole. As a shepherd, Santiago learned much about himself and his concerns from his sheep, sleeping in a ruined church and selling his wool by the season to a merchant (whose daughter he fancies marrying). But his life spins into an alternate direction when he encounters a man who calls himself king.
Santiago has a dream of a treasure in a pyramid, and the king tells him that he must promise him a tenth of the sheep if he tells him about his 'Personal Legend', or purpose in life. The story begins here, with the wisdom that the king imparts to Santiago. His travels take him across an ocean, a desert, through months of working at a crystal shop, robbery, and wars. He meets many different kinds of people- those who never knew their Personal Legend, those who failed to realize them, those who do not want to realize them, and those who are working hard to achieve them. He travels, fights, learns, and falls in love along the way, all the time learning the Language and Soul of the World.
I really enjoyed seeing into Santiago's simple heart, hearing his thoughts and walking with him across hot desert sands. Although it was nothing like reading Shakespeare, the wisdom imparted on every page about alchemy and everything being one resonated into my mind. Being a Christian, it's often hard for me to read scholarly books, but Coehlo worked God into the very fabric of The Alchemist. Instead of being an anomaly, God became a part and head of the Soul of the World. I've never seen any other author do something like that so masterfully.
Coehlo even works history into the story, but I shan't spoil the entire of it for you. It dragged a little bit in the middle, when he delved deeply into explaining the Soul of the World in regard to the prophecy with the hawks in Al-Fayoum, but the story picked up rapidly, like a river, and carried me to the end. It's not a long read, but I felt as if the story completed itself beautifully.
I recommend you read this as soon as possible, but it won't disappear from shelves anytime soon. It's a classic, and it clearly deserves to be. I honestly think kids should read this in school- it's much better than anything I've read thus far in high school, and I don't understand why The House on Mango Street is fed to our freshmen when The Alchemist is left for a time in their life when they should have known all this by now.
Make our lives better- realize your part in the Soul of the World and just read through The Alchemist.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New York

Review: New York: The Novel
Author: Edward Rutherfurd
Written: September, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 1

New York has such a spirit and effervescence for the beautiful city that we all know as the 'island at the center of the world' that I wanted to pack my bags and get on the first plane there. Edward Rutherfurd has an amazing talent for creating historical characters to make the truthful eras come to life in vivid color.
Historical fiction is a relatively new genre in popular fiction, but it's growing rapidly. There are a lot of new books in the ever-lengthening historical fiction aisle in my Barnes and Noble here in Prescott. Edward Rutherfurd is definitely among the governing circle of that genre, with his top sellers being such famed novels as London, The Princes of Ireland, and The Forest.
New York begins in the 17th century colony of New Amsterdam, but it really doesn't focus on the politicking of England and the Netherlands. Rather, it focuses on the people, which really gives the reader insight into what life was really like. While describing the landscape in rich words and phrases, New York still leaves something to the imagination, which gives it that extra dimension which so many books are lacking. Following the Van Dyck boat north, you can almost hear the rush of the river and the soughing of the wind through the trees of the largely still-wild Manhattan.
New York dances gracefully alongside American history without all of the heavy descriptions of the politics, and George Washington himself even makes an appearance during the Revolutionary War. I personally loved the way that Rutherfurd followed the Master family down through the ages, seeing how the years affected them and the city which changed so much beneath their feet.
Now, I've heard from many different readers that it's hard to like Rutherfurd's novels because they switch characters. I understand (I've had a hard time with some of the other ones), but New York is different. It keeps tracking all the way through, following one family throughout the ages, keeping just enough of their parents' story in it to keep you interested and reading, following each generation through their trials and hardships, either coming out triumphant or despondent in the end, searching for a happy ending the eastern land of opportunity.
I don't want to give too much of the story away, but what I must say is that the ending is both tear-jerking for those of us who witnessed it and heartwarming for those who don't remember it.
Oh, and Rutherfurd's technique of following a family heirloom is sparkling and flawless, as ever.

I borrowed it from my local library, but I wish I'd bought this book. It runs a little pricey still at a $29.00 hardback, but is totally and completely worth it. If you can get your hands on it in the next week, do so.
That's it for today. :)