The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
February 12, 2010 § 25 Comments
The wind began to blow again. It was the levanter, the wind that came from Afirca. It didn’t rbing with it the smell of the desert, nor the threat of Moorish invasion. Instead, it brought the scent of a perfume he knew well, and the touch of a kiss – a kiss that came from far away, slowly, slowly, until it rested on his lips.
The Alchemist had long been on my to-read list. For one thing, it is probably one of the most well-known of all of Coelho’s works. Second, because the title was just so enticing. (So I am now admitting that I’m very much intrigued by the science of alchemy, and whatever else that has anything to do with it. Any suggestions of good books out there, fiction or non-fiction, are greeted with a note of many thanks in advance.)
As it turns out, the book has very little to do with the science of alchemy, and has more to do with dreams, and the journey of a shepherd to pursue his. Santiago dreams of the Egyptian pyramids, and is told that if he goes there, he will find treasure. He does not know what to make of this, and so goes to see a gypsy, who is supposedly able to interpret dreams, but only tells him what I could have told him: that he is to go to the pyramids in Egypt, and there he will find treasure. He finally makes up his mind to make this journey when he meets with the King of Salem, a man who is ‘magical’ in some way, able to tell Santiago things he should not have known, and tells him to look out and heed the omens.
For most of the book, I was left a little underwhelmed. Again, this might have been because of my very high expectations of the book. I had imagined it to be deep and thoughtful, to be able to transport me into this magical world where I could perhaps lose myself for the many hours that I would spend reading it. This didn’t happe, which was disappointing. There was, however, a conversation between Santiago and the alchemist that I found rather compelling, and did save this book much.
“My heart is a traitor,” the boy said to the alchemist, when they had paused to rest the horses. “It doesn’t want me to go on.”
“That makes sense,” the alchemist answered. “Naturally it’s afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won.”
“Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?”
“Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world.”
“You mean I should listen, even if it’s treasonous?”
“Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them.
“You will never be able to excape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what i has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.”
I am a big fan of books that go to that deep place inside, but not many manage to go very far. I had expected this book to go there, but it missed its mark, I’m afraid.