I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for the first time a couple of years ago. There was a lot of hype around it and many famous people listed it as their favorite book of all time, so I thought I should read it. First of all I was surprised how small and thin the book was: based on the reviews I was waiting for some kind of epic odyssey, a door stopper/paperweight type of a heavy opus. I was a bit taken aback by the simple and non-descriptive style of Paulo Coelho’s writing, the childish fable-like narrative and the ending, which I won’t spoil for you but I thought was too happy-happy-joy-joy and not very credible. So I put down the book disappointed, because I felt it was nothing I had expected.
Then something started to happen. I found myself thinking about the themes of the book over and over again. I started to dig deeper into the philosophy and aphorisms behind the story and felt some kind of new-found hope, inner peace and courage. I started to think the book was actually really good.
I decided to revisit The Alchemist a few years after the first time I read it. I wanted to see if my opinions about the book had changed since my expectations were more realistic this time and I had gained a couple of more years’ worth of life experience. This time around I did find new nuances in the story and I did like it more. I do still find the same aspects I listed above irritating: the story has so much more potential but is now reduced to what reminds me of old nursery rhymes. I would compare this book to The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupèry: a story that touches both children as well as adults. A child sees only the fairy tale when an adult can find philosophy and life wisdom between the lines.
There is something really captivating about the story of Santiago the shepherd who leaves everything behind to follow his dreams (or Personal Legend as it’s called in the book). Every one of us surely has their own dreams they would like to follow but are too afraid to let go of the safety of the life they live now. It’s comforting and consoling to read about people who have achieved their dreams especially against all odds, because it gives us the feeling we could also do the same if we wanted to. What I like most about The Alchemist is the feeling of being the architect of your own fortune or the master of your own fate; like everything is possible if you only want it bad enough.
I do recommend this book for everyone to read, but with small caution: do not expect it to be a life changing experience. Read the book with open mind, take it as it is and don’t try to make the story bigger than it is. Take your time to think through the things it aroused in you and feel the feelings it made you feel, because at least in my opinion the things you process in your mind after reading the book are far more important than the book itself.