This was one of the best books I have read in a long time and still in my Top 10. Written in 2012; for me, this must be Paulo Coelho’s best book. No wonder 65 million copies have been sold since release and has now become one of the best selling books in history. I do not usually read novels, but I heard that The Alchemist was Will Smith's favourite book and seeing that I am a fan of his, had to read the book as well.
I am also a big Paulo Coelho fan, as he inspires me as someone who don't see himself as a victim of his difficult past. Coelho is a Brazilian author and his life shares some parallels with the story in his book.
He had always wanted to be a writer, but his parents didn’t allow it. He was put in a mental institution, escaped, became a hippie and travelled the world, and eventually returned and fulfilled his dream of being being an author.
He is an advocate of not giving up on your dream, and this message seems to come through in this novel in particular.
For me, the book is a bridge between fiction and non-fiction. It’s a love story; an adventure story, a story of inner conflict between dreams and reality.
Reading through it; it makes you feel the north African sun on your face while dust and wind blowing through your hair – figuratively, for me. A great story with valuable life lessons that, in my opinion, should be on everyone’s must reads ‘before they die’.
The three most powerful points I took from the book were;
To lead a different more adventurous life, you have to take action and do things you have not done before.
Dreams have a price, but so not living your dreams also has a price
Romantic love is important, but it is not your duty — that is to pursue your dream
The story is about Santiago; a shepherd who loves his flock. However, he can’t help but notice the limited nature of the sheep’s existence. They are only interested in food and water and never lift their heads to admire the beauty of the Andalusian hills or the sunsets of Southern Spain. Santiago’s comes from a poor upbringing where his parents have continually struggled with the basics of life and have smothered their own ambitions accordingly.
Even though they live in beautiful Andalusia which attracts tourists to its small villages and rolling hills; for Santiago and his family, it is no place of dreams. Santiago, on the other hand, can read and wants to travel. He goes into town one day to sell some of his flock and encounters a tramp king and a gypsy woman. They urge him to “follow his omens” and leave the world he knows. The gypsy points him toward the Pyramids of Egypt, where she says he will find treasure.
Seeking adventure, Santiago believes her. He sells his flock and sets sail for Morocco. Sure enough, disaster is met early on when a thief in Tangier robs him of his savings. So much hard work and discipline for a little adventure! But strangely, Santiago is not devastated and pushes ahead on his quest to reach the Pyramids.
Santiago is now living a different life, in which every day is new and rewarding. He keeps reminding himself of what he was told in the market before he left: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
You Must Follow Your Dream
This is a personal motto of mine and a support for anyone embarking on a major project. The “universe conspiring” to give you what you want is a reflection of your determination to make something happen. In reading The Alchemist, it made me think of the immortalised words of Napoleon Hill, “whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve”
The book does not get away from the fact that dreams have a price, but so not living your dreams also has a price. There will be difficulties in whatever you do in life, but it is better to have problems that make sense because they are part of what you are trying to achieve.
The old man that Santiago meets in the town square tells him not to believe “the biggest lie,” that you can’t control your destiny. "You can", he says, but you must “read the omens,” which becomes possible when you start to see the world as one. The world can be read like a book, but we will never be able to understand it if we have a closed type of existence, complacent with our lot and unwilling to risk anything, says Coelho.
The Alchemist is remarkable for being a love story but more dramatic in that it renounces the idea that romantic love must be the central thing in your life. Each person has the destiny to pursue that exists independently of other people. It is the thing that you would do, or be, even if you had all the love and money you want. The treasure that Santiago seeks is, of course, the symbol of the personal dream or destiny (his true legend), but he is happy to give up on it when he finds the woman of his dreams in a desert oasis. Yet the Alchemist he meets in the desert tells him that the love of his oasis girlfriend will only be proved real if she is willing to support his search for his true legend.
Santiago’s dilemma is about the conflict between love and personal dreams. Too often we see a love relationship as the meaning of our life, but the obsession with romantic love can cut us off from a life more connected with the rest of the world. Live your life around the dream, Coelho says, and there will be more 'heart' in your life than you can now comprehend. “ No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
Coelho states that romantic love is important, but it is not your duty — that is to pursue your dream. Only through devotion to the dream is the 'soul of the world' revealed to us, the knowledge that destroys loneliness and gives power.
What I took from it...
So much of all self-help literature is about pursuing our destiny, but in my view, dreams do not always pull us along by their own force; dreams speak persistently but quietly, and it does not take too much effort to smother the inner voices. Who is willing to risk comfort, routine, security, and existing relationships to follow something that to others looks like a mirage? It takes courage, and reading
Coelho’s classic has become an annual ritual in my quest for daily fearless decision-making and in order to keep me true to a larger vision; my true legend, what that still might be.
I absolutely loved this book. To best enjoy it; it should be read alongside the audiobook narrated by Jeremy Irons. It makes the whole experience so much more special. I cannot recommend this gem of a book more highly.
Some great quote from the book;
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“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
“It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
“One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
"So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.”
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
"Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.”
“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.”
“Don't give in to your fears. If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart.”
“This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there's no need at all to understand what's happening, because everything happens within you.”
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
“We are travelers on a cosmic journey,stardust,swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
“Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”
“If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own
“I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.”
“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”
"When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
“Don't think about what you've left behind" The alchemist said to the boy as they began to ride across the sands of the desert. "If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return”