Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review #4: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho


Life goes on, gets so heavy,

The wheel breaks the butterfly
Every tear a waterfall
In the night, the stormy night
She close her eyes,
In the night, the stormy night
Away she flied
And dreamed of para-para-paradise

- Paradise, Coldplay



People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands.


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Amidst all the academic reading I have to do (that's Humanities in A Levels for you), I managed to finish a thin 177-paged book recently. September was a hard month. I was demotivated and tired all the time. I stumbled upon a video on Youtube which was about Will Smith and his take on success. He talked about The Alchemist. I vaguely remember seeing Coelho's books in bookstores and Shanan reading his books but thought nothing of them.


Wouldn't hurt right?


This book was an odd one for me. Odd story, odd prose, odd dialogue. Oddly short but none the less amazing, too. Originally written in Portugese, it follows the story of Santiago from Spain. He is a shepherd boy who wants to travel the world to search for a treasure. And so, we follow his journey.


I think there's two approaches you can take when reading this book: the skeptical or the open-minded. I chose the latter. A large number of people consider this book absurd and over-rated. The writing isn't beautiful; it's too blunt. The plot is straight forward, at times it is preachy. The characters are one-dimensional. But these faults don't take away how meaningful and inspiring this book is. Must a story be complicated to be considered beautiful? I thought the minimalism works well with the message it sends.


In short, I think, the story tells us to persevere. To find your path in life; or "personal legend". Those who don't follow their "personal legend" will forever live in mediocrity and regret like the glass merchant in the book. The book tells us to find a goal and not waver from it. To understand that there is a need for compromise and sacrifice in life.


Santiago taught us to learn because throughout his journey, learning was the constant thing. He learned through his mishaps, his frustration, his own wonder. What I like too was the fact that while Santiago was on his journey, he found love as well. I think Santiago showed that goals and love, they are not separate.


"When someone sees the same people every day, they wind up becoming a part of that person's life. And then they want the person to change. 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."


"...it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie. It's this: that a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie."


"When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it."

"If a person is living out his destiny, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure."


I thought the ending was exceedingly clever. I urge you to read this if you want a wonderful story, stripped down to its core, to remind you that hey, life ain't that bad. You'll like it as much as millions of us do.

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