Realizing One’s Dream
and the Alchemy of Living
(A Book Review of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist)
Dreams, omens, mysticism, and adventure abound in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as readers rediscover the power of dreaming, of living it out — and fulfilling it!
It tells the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy from Andalusia, who sets upon a journey to follow life’s dream. He has had this recurring dream that there is a buried treasure that awaits him in the Pyramids of Egypt. Along his quest he meets a man who declares himself a king, a desert woman to whom he fell in love with, and an alchemist, all of whom point him in the direction on how to reach his treasure. Yet, what ought to be a yearning for mundane wealth and a boy’s thirst to travel and discover exotic places, leads him to riches only found within; that is, if he prevails over the trials and tribulations that awaits him at every turn to test the true core of his faith and character.
The Alchemist is an exciting novel that is rife with optimism; it is the kind of novel that tells you everything is possible as long as you really want it to happen. This pantheistic parable has a charming simplicity in it, embodied by the notion that we all have a Personal Legend, a destiny that is accessible only via the path of courage and passion.
It is worth noting that the novel’s central theme emanates from this passage said by King Melchizedek thus: “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
In the course of reading the novel the reader might have the inkling that the treasure Santiago is seeking is not of a material sort. The treasure is merely a self-awareness of oneness with the universe. Just as he ultimately found the treasure not in a far away land but, rather, in his own homeland (which also goes the same way for us), we need not look far to find our own treasure but to search for it inwardly, listen to what our hearts speaks of and make peace with our selves and to others.
Coelho conspicuously suggests, and likewise cautions, that those who do not have the courage to follow their Personal Legend are doomed to emptiness, misery, and unfulfilled life. He stresses this point by using the symbolism of the sheep who keep their eyes to the ground, whose only interest in this world is to fend for his food and water; that sheep represents all of us asleep in the material world totally unaware of the riches buried within our hearts.
Fear of failure seems to be the greatest setback to happiness. As the crystal merchant tragically laments: “I am afraid that great disappointment awaits me, and so, I prefer to dream.” This is where Coelho really captures the drama of a man who sacrifices fulfillment to conformity, who knows he can achieve greatness but denies doing so, and ends up living a life of void. Curiously, Coelho also presents that a person who rejects to follow his dream refuses to see God. Earlier in the novel Santiago stated that “he couldn’t have found God in the seminary” and decided to leave it to follow what his heart truly desires for he reasons “every happy person carries God with him.” However, only a few people choose to pursue the road that has been made for them, and others lose the opportunity of finding God whilst searching for their destiny and their purpose for being.
In the author’s point of view, the burdens of adult life steal the destiny from us, replacing it with false Gods of comfort and illusory security. The Language of the World, of the heart, of all things in their singular identities is accessible, but only through courage and passion, and taking of risks these attributes enables.
The Alchemist is a novel that may appeal to everybody, because we can identify with Santiago: all of us have dreams, and will do whatever our heart’s wishes.
The novel skillfully combines words of wisdom, philosophy, and simplicity of meaning and language, which makes it particularly readable and accounts for its bestselling status.
The Alchemist tells you how to turn lead into gold. It doesn’t matter if you die trying, never reaching your goal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t find what you’re looking for, once you get there. What matters is what you’ve brought with you on the way, and what you’ve learned along the way. The people you meet, the hardships and heartaches you go through, the lessons your experiences has taught you. It tells you the wonder and uncertainty of change and evolution, the secret of enjoying the beauty of life without becoming hardened by the harshness of reality, the art of living in the moment worrying nothing neither the past nor the future, and most importantly, the ultimate secret of the universe, that we are all interconnected. We are all one.
Maktub. It is written.
Published by Harper Collins
(Mass Market Paperback, December 2004 Edition)
Read in December 2007