I’m surprised it took me this long to read The Alchemist. The back cover of my edition features the hyperbolic blurb, “Every few decades a book comes along that changes the lives of its readers forever.” When I read that I thought a sarcastic, “yeah, okay.” But now, a few days later, I must happily eat my words.
It’s not that the book has changed my life, but its simple, inspiring message has caused a subtle but significant shift in my perspective. It all began with the introduction, written by Coelho himself. He discusses one’s calling in life and though he couches it in spiritual/semi-religious terms, it will resonate with anyone who has ever harbored a dream that seems impossible. For artists, especially, it feels especially relevant:
However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream…There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there…[We] must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how. (vii)
The simple, unbearable truth hidden in this novel is that our dream is possible, that it is we who frustrate the reaching of our goals and dreams because we are afraid. The universe, ruled in Coelho’s perspective by a higher being, wants us to achieve our calling. The universe will conspire to help us achieve it. Coelho says that because we expect the world to be harsh and hostile, it becomes that way through fear and inaction. If we work to achieve our goals and remain hopeful, they are absolutely within reach.
Soooo, that was the introduction. The theme carries throughout the narrative, however. We meet Santiago, a shepherd boy in the hills of Andalusia. He has already changed the trajectory of his life by eschewing a priesthood and becoming a shepherd so he could travel and see the world. He has a recurring dream of visiting the Egyptian Pyramids, has his dream interpreted by a Gypsy woman, and embarks on a quest of faith to find a treasure hidden at the Pyramids.
The novel reads like a parable the way Coelho refers to Santiago as “the boy” throughout. It’s a beautiful story about having faith in oneself and in the beauty of the earth. The language Coelho uses and the events that occur infuse the story with a sense of magic and spirituality. This kind of spirituality is inclusive of all religions and denominations; in fact, Coelho constantly emphasizes the connection that exists between people and the earth, people and other people, history and the future. Coelho himself expresses the belief that there is one Being, and that all religions manifest the same truth in different ways. The product of this belief is a novel like The Alchemist, which speaks to all people about letting go of fear to achieve their greatest potential.
I found this novel absolutely enchanting. I think this novel speaks to the power of spirituality and faith. I’ve heard much criticism about this novel, that it’s childish, self-help-bookish, etc. but I think its message is worth hearing. I know I found it worthwhile. Coelho has enchanted me before and I am confident he will in future.
The Valkyries is accompanying me to Alaska. When you read this I’ll probably already be finished (feverish plane reading is pretty awesome). Stay tuned for a review!
Coelho, P. The Alchemist. (1993) New York, NY: HarperCollins.