The Alchemist

Author : Paulo Coelho
Genre : Literature, Philosophy, Self-Help, Spirituality

I thought a lot on whether or not to include this book in my list here. It claims to change your life, and no doubt it has for many of its 80 million readers. The book has been translated in 67 languages and holds a Guinness record for maximum translations. It also made Paulo Coelho the most famous living author, with 28 million fans on Facebook (only author in Top 100 Fan pages… all others are Musicians or Actors).

The novel’s message is simple: “when you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” [Recall Shah Rukh Khan saying it in Om Shanti Om!]. It follows the life of a young shepherd who, against all odds, follows his dream and finds a big treasure. The core message is sound. As we grow older, a mysterious force begins to convince us it will be impossible to realize our dream. And so we live shackled by what society tells us to do, rather than what we really want to do, living a life of emptiness, misery and discontentment. The novel extols us to follow our dreams, instead of worrying about what others will think. For ‘everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own’.

However, the logical part of me was let down by the very simple treatment of this complex subject. Just wait for a dream, listen to the advice of old strangers, travel far off following the omens (‘Language of the World’), and the ‘Soul of the Universe’ would take care of you. What about responsibility, discipline, planning? And what about the dreams and destinies of women (In this book, the young boy’s love lady was content to simply wait in the desert for her man to return)!

But let’s be fair to Paulo: This book needs to be read like a fable with its many symbolism. The treasure may refer to the God inside us, and it belongs ‘where the heart belongs’, and the journey itself can be the discovery. Paulo himself lived an interesting life: born to strict Christian parents, he left faith but came back later. During this period, he was locked up in a mental institution, lived the hippie life, took drugs, wrote black magic songs and was arrested for subversive activities. But he followed his dream of becoming an author and has published 30 books since!

He wrote this book in a mere 2 weeks after he had completed Spain’s famous pilgrimage (road to Santiago, walking 500 miles) because he said it was always ‘written in his soul’. He is a devout Christian and bible’s effect is clear in this book (episodes of King of Salem, Urim and Thummim etc.)

Why should you read the book: Because of its profound message of following your dreams and its simple dreamy writing style.

Goodreads Link: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho | Goodreads