I discovered this book my first year in college. I was 18, and working at a local bookstore. I got paid crap, but the benefits were a discount on merchandise and a thorough knowledge of books. At that point, it was enough. I knew about what books were popular with what groups, what was new, and I was great at suggesting a new author to you if you told me some of the books you had enjoyed in the past. It was a good experience. It was during this time that I discovered a little book titled The Alchemist and an author that could pluck me right out of real life, yet make me consider mine in detail, Paulo Coelho.
This book is diminutive compared to most I read, coming in at just under 170 pages. It was also one of the first translated books I’d ever read. Since Coelho is from Brazil, I expect the novel was written originally in Portuguese. It was translated into English by Alan R. Clarke.
The subtitle of this book is: A Fable About Following Your Dream. A FABLE people. I was entranced. I didn’t know they still wrote fables. I thought all fables were ages old, passed down orally until some old monk decided to write them down for posterity. Plus, fables always included talking animals like Aesop right? This is a fable and it was published in 1993? I had to buy it. Also, it had this lovely other worldly picture of a castle in the mountains shrouded in mist. All of this appealed to my idealistic, dream-ridden, romantic 18-year-old brain. I bought it with some of the pittance I had left over after a Sonic meal. I’ve never regretted it.
The story is of a shepherd (isn’t it always) who embarks on a journey to find a treasure. He is led there by omens, fortune tellers, and God. This is not a religious book, although many religions and religious stories are referenced and used. It is a spiritual book, and to me, an uplifting one. It’s about following your heart, living in the moment, and having faith that there is a purpose for you and a plan. It speaks of the possibilities if you live right:
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.” The Seer – pg. 104
And what happens when we stop listening to our hearts:
“Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him…We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them – the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” The Shepherds Heart – pg. 132
Of course, there is also a love story, although it is secondary to the main story, and actually gets very little attention overall. What I like about this love story is that it is the typical, at-first-sight all-consuming type of love, which I never really believed in, but wanted to. And yet, I’ve found it to be true over time:
“I love you because the whole universe conspired to help me find you.” The Shepherd – pg. 123
At the risk of sounding sappy, this is how I feel about my husband.
Now, there are a few issues in the book I chose to overlook. As a woman, I question why it is the man who leaves in search of treasure and the woman who always has to sit and wait? We can’t go find treasure? We can’t be the ones out discovering while the man sits and wait for us? There is more, but I choose to overlook this because of the beauty of the story and my love for the ideas in it. I was enchanted at 18 in one way, challenged and enchanted in a completely different way at 32.
Everyone should take a rainy morning, a cup of coffee, and a warm blanket to sit and read The Alchemist at least once. Try to make sure you are in an open and thoughtful mood when you do. That’s when you will get the most out of it.
Oh, and no, there are no talking animals in this story…there is talking heart though. Sort of.