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The Alchemist – by Paulo Coehlo

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” -Thomas Paine

Life can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Many profound principles of life and love are the most simple. That’s what I liked about The Alchemist –straightforward and uncomplicated, it needn’t be complex or convoluted to get the message across (also, it helps that it’s an easy read). I found this book a little corny and “mystic-hokey-pokey ” at times, but altogether the message moves in a very simple way: life is not that complicated when one follows one’s dreams honestly and passionately, or as the book says, “with love and purpose.” And when you follow this honestly, everything and everyone around you conspires to help you realize it –whatever the ‘it’ may be.

Brazilian storyteller Paulo Coehlo introduces Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who has recurring dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. After encountering a so called king who emboldens the young boy to follow his vision, he sells his flock, and leaves Spain by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into the unknown cities and people of northern Africa to follow his dream. Along the way along his journey he meets many spiritual messengers, who come in unassuming forms such as a crystal shop owner, camel driver and a well-read Englishman. And it’s through the Englishman, Santiago first learns about the alchemists–men who believed that if a metal were heated for many years, it would free itself of all its individual properties, and what was left would be the “Soul of the World.”

Of course he does eventually meet an alchemist, and the ensuing student-teacher relationship clarifies much of the boy’s misguided ideas and fears, while also encouraging him to stay true to his dreams. “My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy confides to the alchemist one night as they look up at a moonless night. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself,” the alchemist replies. “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.” A bit corny yes, but it reminds us of a very big lesson–It’s very easy to give up on dreams and abandon your passion when the journey leads into unknown (perhaps dangerous) new lands. It is about the importance of wanting something urgently and how the wanting seems to reorient the universe in harmony with that goal (just as a magnetic field can reorder the particles around it), how genuine passion and enthusiasm are rewarded with success, how those who love us encourage us to pursue our goals, and how the act of reaching for goals – whatever they are, and whether or not ultimately reached – plunges us into a strong current that carries us to places that we can never expect or know when we embark– that much of the value of the goal is in the journey that it leads us on — the experiences gained and the lessons learned.

The Alchemist is a novel that may appeal to everybody, because we can all identify with Santiago: all of us have dreams, and are dying for somebody to tell us that if we follow them with all we have, they may just come true. Get a copy of The Alchemist from Amazon ->

  • Jaimye Martinez-Harris

    Good book. It reminded me of The Fountainhead in certain aspects… the idea that real happiness is found only when we are true to ourselves and our dreams. I, too, found it a bit corny at parts, and felt that many of the “revelations” were just common sense. But it’s been a few years since I’ve read it… it may be time for a second go ’round. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

  • Michael Nyffeler

    yeah, that theme is in a ton of books, movies, quotes, buttons, refrigerator magnets…etc (you get the picture) but just as most things…and as you said….its good to get a reminder of how simply we should be living and viewing the world. things get so complicated and muddled down the the noise of where we live – its easy to forget sometimes. thanks for the comment!

    any other books you recommend for my que – send them my way!

  • Mike,

    I teach this book to my juniors. It ends up being one of their favorite books! I also enjoyed it very much, so I was excited to see you read it.