Friday, 13 September 2013

The Alchemist

Today I want to write about a book that you’ve probably already heard of:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

According to the front cover, it’s sold 65 million copies, so the chances are that if you haven’t heard of it, somebody you know has!

I was given a copy of this book as a gift when I visited Norway in April, though it took me until the end of June to read it.

Now I’ve read it? I wonder what took me so long.

What the blurb says:

“Dreams are made to be followed.

Life is meant to be lived.

Some books are meant to be read, loved and passed on.

The Alchemist is one of those books.

It is the story of a shepherd boy from the Spanish region of Andalusia who dreams of travelling the world in search of a treasure as desirable as any ever found. From his home he journeys to the exotic markets of North Africa and then into the Egyptian desert, where a fateful encounter with the alchemist awaits him…

The Alchemist is an unforgettable fable about the essential wisdom of listening to our heart and, above all, following our dreams.”

What drew me to read this book: aside from the fact it was a gift, the main attraction was that the storyline involved travelling to Egypt! Going deeper than that, I was curious to discover what about this book had proved to be so ‘life-enhancing’ (according to The Times) to so many people.

Okay, so I can’t claim that The Alchemist has changed my life. I am still me, still spending time making jewellery, blogging and volunteering.
But it did give me things to think about. Whilst it is a translation, the messages within the story are still easy to understand.

As I’ve said with previous books, I think these things can be left up to individual interpretation, but here’s what I took away from the story:

  • When our plans are delayed or seem impossible, maybe we are gaining the opportunity to learn something useful to us.
  • Fear can be what stops us from reaching for our dreams.
  • Our days become boring and ‘samey’ when we don’t notice all the good things that happen every day.
  • Making a decision is just the beginning of things (you don’t always know where you’ll end up!)
  • Achieving your dreams may not be easy. You will be tested, and you will need patience.

I think these are things we all know, in our hearts. It is reading them in a story that makes us realise them. It’s easy to forget and become lost in the mundane, it’s easy to feel disheartened when, try as you might, you don’t seem to be getting anywhere. This book is a gentle encouragement to seek out the good things and keep aiming for what we dream of.

Reading The Alchemist, the real connection came for me when I happened upon this line:

“[…] the mysterious chain that links one thing to another, the same chain that had caused him to become a shepherd, that had caused his recurring dream, that had brought him to a city near Africa […]”

The quote I noted down was longer, but contains spoilers :)
The important part is the ‘mysterious chain’ idea. A few weeks before reading this book, I was thinking about this sort of idea as I realised the long chain of events and experiences that had led me to make a really awesome friendship (I think I followed the chain back as far back as being a pre-teen, then thought ‘I have to write this down’ and lost track!)

Some more quotes:

“To the boy’s surprise, the Englishman took a chrome-plated revolver out of his bag and gave it to the men who were collecting the arms.
“Why a revolver?” he asked.
“It helped me to trust in people,” the Englishman answered.”

“In pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty, nor impatient. If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.”

“The battles may last for a long time, perhaps even years. There are powerful forces on both sides, and the war is important to both armies. It’s not a battle of good against evil. It’s a war between forces that are fighting for the balance of power, and, when that type of battle begins, it lasts longer tan others—because Allah is on both sides.”

“My heart is a traitor,” the boy said to the alchemist, when they had paused to rest the horses. “It doesn’t want me to go on.”
“That makes sense,” the alchemist answered. “Naturally it’s afraid that, in pursuing your dreams, you might lose everything you’ve won.”

“The boy reached through the Soul of the World and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles.”

“The alchemist said, “No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”

You may have noticed that the quotes I included above mention both God and Allah. I found this a likable aspect of the story: The Alchemist is written by a Catholic, but it hasn’t been written to portray Catholicism as ‘the one true path’. Rather, it is more of a spiritual story. It is moralistic.

The TLDR: An encouraging and moralistic story with spiritual themes that encourages the pursuit of dreams and aims to explain why we don’t follow them.

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