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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #11 - The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."

Santiago, a young shepherd boy, is someone who likes to be on the move. He travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert searching for treasure buried in the pyramids. Along the way he meets many people who help to point him in the right direction and, more importantly, seek to instruct him about life and finding himself so he is more able to find his treasure.

There are some beautiful ideas and images presented in this book, namely the 'Personal Legend'. We each have our own Personal Legend - kind of like fate - that only we can live out, and it is those who live out their Personal Legends who become truly happy.

One of the people that Santiago meets is a merchant who deals in crystals. He is a devout Muslim and talks to Santiago about going on pilgrimage to Mecca, though he seems to have no intention of actually doing it. He says, "...it's the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive...I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living." Later in the book, Santiago remembers this and is sad, because it is in his journey to find his treasure that he learns much about the world and himself - something that is not an option to the merchant because the merchant is not brave enough to try and live out his Personal Legend.

In the desert Santiago meets the eponymous Alchemist. He tells Santiago of the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life, but warns him that those whom have tried to make a Philosopher's Stone just to learn how to turn metal into gold have failed. They only wanted the treasure instead of trying to live out their Personal Legend - i.e. living their lives to the full. (This part makes more sense in context!) The things that the Alchemist stresses to Santiago as being more important are learning the Language of the World and connecting with the Soul of the World. He also teaches him to listen to his heart and pay heed to omens.

My favourite part of the book is in which Santiago is trying to turn himself into the wind, otherwise he'll be put to death by desert soldiers. He converses with the wind, the sun, and the hand that wrote all, and talks a great deal about love, which I found wonderfully uplifting and challenging at the same time:

"Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World...when we love, we always strive to become better than we are."

Simply put, this book is wonderful. Through the eyes of a young, adventurous shepherd boy, we learn a great deal about the world and spirituality, and are challenged to answer the questions that the Santiago is asked for ourselves.

In the end, the boy find his treasure. But that was not the most important thing. The important thing was his journey, because without his journey - in other words, living out his Personal Legend - he wouldn't have found his treasure, and he wouldn't have learned and connected with the world - not to mention the "hand that wrote it all".

Until next time!

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