Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

First given to me by my dear friend, Ted, for my 35th birthday. This book did not change my life so much as it shined a spotlight on what was going on in my life; it helped me to see clearly.

The first time I read it right receiving it I thought something like: “Oh, that was nice,” and let it go at that. Nine months later my life was turned upside down as I went through a divorce. As I picked a path through that chaos suddenly Coelho’s words bubbled up from my subconscious. In a flood I realized I had already read the wisdom needed to find my way forward. What had seemed like an Aesop’s fable-for-adults upon the first reading suddenly became a detailed deconstruction of why the life I was living was developing in the particular fashion that it was. The chaos ceased to be something I was “subject to” and instead became something I could work with.

This is a book to read if you are interested in chasing your dreams.  Coelho asserts, and my personal experience agrees with, the following two propositions:

  • When you pursue your dream – your “personal legend” Coelho calls it – the universe will conspire with you. Early on you will experience what’s often called “beginner’s luck.”
  • However, if you faithfully pursue your dreams, before they can come to fruition you will be tested.

There are other integral propositions that inform how this whole process works out including:

  • Recognizing auspicious/inauspicious situations and signs (what Coelho calls speaking the “Language of the World”); sounds very Taoist, no?
  • Listening to your heart, which intrinsically speaks the “Language of the World”
  • Fostering patience for yourself, your heart, and the world
  • Applying everything you learn as you continually pursue your personal legend

I would love to learn Portuguese so I could read Coelho directly. The translation by Alan Clarke is so compelling. In a world where popular writers somehow crank out volumes upon volumes of vacuous words, Coelho cuts through the mix with a laconic, impactful narrative that can be devoured in a single sitting; albeit a longish one. And that’s saying a lot coming from one as loquacious as me.