I only read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for the first time last year, but upon reading it I could not understand why I took so long to do so. It was originally published in 1988, and I was born in 1997. I found out about the book in 2016, but read it in 2019. How had it taken so much time for me to learn about this world famous and widely translated book? And, better yet, why did I not jump on it sooner? For this week’s TBT, let’s try to answer some of these questions.
I ask these questions because, after I read it, I began to notice how many other people have read it as well. I was also given a pass-along copy of another one of Coelho’s books, Like the Flowing River. I realized then that he was not a one-hit-wonder, but a gifted writer who excels at inspiring his readers to chase after their dreams. Instead of dreams, though, Coelho calls them “Personal Legends.”
The idea of the Personal Legend, therefore, becomes the foundation of The Alchemist. It is about a shepherd boy named Santiago who has always dreamed of travelling. He dreams about travelling and speaks about travelling, until he finally decides to step away from the path his father had already laid out for him as a priest. He will instead become a shepherd, because then he will have a feasible way to do the very thing that had consumed his entire existence, even before becoming his reality.
Besides his personal life goals, readers also watch as his Personal Legend begins to shift a bit, despite the fact that he doesn’t even know what a Personal Legend is yet. He falls in love with a girl, but *SPOILER ALERT* this is not the girl he ends up with. While I read The Alchemist, I kept thinking he would achieve his Personal Legend, find treasure, and return to the girl. I actually love the book more for the fact that this does not happen.
The idea of love at first sight and spending your life with your first love is a dream, of course, but a dream not realized for many people. Many people, myself included, do not end up with their first love. Instead, we go on a journey throughout in which we meet people who may or may not become our partner. Maybe one person ticks off all of your boxes, but it still doesn’t work out. How can that be?
Well, that’s life. That is also exactly what happens to Santiago. It seems like the first girl will be the one, but she is not. Despite the fact that The Alchemist is a story of magic and legends, it portrays life in its greatest amount of accuracy. It shows people who lost their love, people who gave up on their Personal Legends, people who continue to chase after them, and the sacrifices every person has to make.
Do alchemists really exist? I don’t believe so. Does The Alchemist accurately portray both the trials and the gratifications of life? Yes. I took so long to read The Alchemist because I did not expect it to tell such a true story to me, despite all of the magical elements that make up the story. I thought it would be a slightly more grown-up Harry Potter, with less spells and more chemical experimentation.
Had I realized that The Alchemist was a greater discussion of life’s purpose, I would have pushed aside some of the other books I deemed more important and given it the proper attention it deserved. Love and purpose are things I struggle with myself, things I imagine many people struggle with as well, but things that began to make a little more sense to me once I saw a young shepherd-boy-turned-alchemist going through them (instead of myself).
If you are like me and you need a reminder of the things that should matter most and what love should really look like, then I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Alchemist immediately.
See you all for the next TBT!
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