21 August 2009

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

On Tuesday, my friend Lydia visited me from her tenure at Yale Divinity School as a 3rd year MDiv student and presented me with two books for my birthday. One was on cupcake recipes and uber cute and the other was called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

I'd never heard of The Alchemist but Lydia assured me that I would love it and that in fact, she was very intrigued to hear what my response would be like. Among her description of the book was that she had cried while she read it and that her brother (a prolific reader) had thought it was boring.

My interest was peaked.

On the cover of my book was a sticker that said it had been a bestseller for 20 years. And the image on the front depicted a dark castle on a hill with sand blowing around it.

Was this a tale of mystical intrigue and medieval secrets? A lingering romance?

According to Wikipedia and Paulo Cuelho's website, The Alchemist is Brazil's literary bestseller of all time. I started the book Wednesday afternoon and finished it in bed that night. Was it amazing? Yes. Will this book impact my life? Yes. Was it a literary masterpiece? Not in my opinion. Should it be considered a classic? Yes. So maybe it is a literary masterpiece? Well....

The language of the book did not blow me away. The storyline was solid and interesting but not a whole lot of frothing fun. I can see why Lydia cried and her brother was bored. BUT-- I have never read a book that described the process of following your dreams as well as this one.

The Alchemist is a work of fiction, a fable, set in the Arabian deserts, following one Spanish shepherd boy as he tries to follow his dream. What he learns along the way changes him and becomes a part of his Personal Legend. In the intro, Paulo outlines everything he learns by telling the reader the 4 obstacles you will face as you try and follow your dream. The story fleshes out the obstacles and helps you live that experience through your imagination. The intro becomes priceless condensed wisdom that you can take with you to inform your journey. And the story stays with you and reminds you of that wisdom.

I recommend picking up a copy and reading the inside cover summary, Paulo's introduction, and then his bio at the end of the book. Then you will see why this book is worth reading. Paulo is one of those present day mystics who had a dream that he was tortured for (by parents and paramilitary groups), which he then abandoned only to be led back by the intervention of visions and strangers telling him to go on a pilgrimage and nurture that dream. He is a Catholic, a spiritual person, and someone who seems to truly fulfill the role of wise elder in our society.

The Alchemist encouraged me to keep going and to be wise to the realities and sufferings and rewards of following my dream. I think it will do the same for you.

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