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.

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