Book Review: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”  “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  These two quotes are two of the central themes in the book, The Alchemist, written by Paulo Coelho.  The Alchemist is the story of a shepherd boy named Santiago.  It was interesting to me that the boy was referred to as Santiago only on the first page, and then for the remainder of the story, he was called simply, the boy.  Perhaps the author did that on purpose to make the reader feel like the story could be as much about them as it was about the boy.

Paulo Coelho originally wrote The Alchemist in Portuguese, back in 1988.  Since then it has been translated into 56 languages.  As it was translated into English, the language is very simple.  But one should not be fooled by the simplicity of the language or the plot of the story itself.  For buried in the language is the very powerful idea that there is nothing more important for us as beings, than to live our life following our own Personal Legend.  Our Personal Legend is doing that thing or following that path that makes us vibrate at our highest pitch.  It is what brings us our greatest joy.

According to Coelho there are four obstacles to following our Personal Legend.  I am paraphrasing his words from the Introduction to this book.  First, we are told from the time we are small children that everything we want to do is impossible.  Our personal calling gets buried under layers of prejudice, fear and guilt.  The second obstacle is love: we realize that pursuing our dream might cause us to leave the ones we love behind.  So we stay, stuck in whatever existence we are living, rather than pushing off to grow to our highest potential.  Yet those who really love us will see the importance of living to our highest potential and encourage us to move on.

The third obstacle is fear.  The voices of fear in our heads freeze us and convince us that we didn’t really want it anyway.  The secret of life, according to Coelho, is to fall seven times, but get up eight times.   And when we fight past the fear and move towards our dream, we are greeted by the fourth obstacle: we actually get what we have been fighting for all this time, but we cannot enjoy it because we feel guilty.  We have a difficult time reveling in our own success when we see, those around us, all those that we care for, have failed to get what they want.  There in lies the final struggle, to achieve to our highest potential and then be able to relish in it.

Thus, The Alchemist is the story of the boy and his struggle on his path towards his dream, his Personal Legend.  As I said, the language is simple but rich in messages such as, “… people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day the sun rises.”  I put down the Alchemist ready to pursue my own Personal Legend.  My dream is to be a writer, and I will persevere in pursuing that dream.

You can read more about Paulo Coelho and all of his works at:

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