Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Alchemy Test

For years, I had heard about The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, but I really didn't know what to expect from the book.  The first surprise was its size.  My copy is only 167 pages, and that is with the words spaced out and wide margins.  The second surprise was how profound a story it is.

Santiago, a shepherd boy in Spain, has a recurring dream about the pyramids in Egypt.  He soon finds himself sitting next to a stranger claiming to be a king, who advises him that he needs to follow his dream, and pursue his Personal Legend.  Capital P, capital L.  A person's Personal Legend is the thing that he or she is really meant to do, and the universe will conspire to help that person achieve the goal.  There will be omens that must be followed.  If the omens are ignored for too long, the universe will stop talking to the dreamer, and ultimately, the Personal Legend will be lost.

Like most dreamers, Santiago has lots of reasons not to listen to the omens.  First and foremost, it is hard.  It is easier to find a job, get good at that job, and stay at that job forever, than to leave a profitable job in pursuit of a goal one may not reach.  Also, there is love.  Falling in love might lead the dreamer to believe that his Personal Legend isn't worth it if following it means losing his soul mate.  Soon after meeting the woman who he loves, Santiago meets the Alchemist.  The Alchemist tells him  "You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend.  If he abandons that pursuit, it's because it wasn't true love."

The Alchemist has elements of the Muslim faith, Judaism, and Christianity.  It is clearly a story of faith, without claiming that one religion is superior to the others.  Additionally, in the story, Santiago is not following God's word, but is following the voice of the universe. 

The Alchemist is a book that everyone should read.  Whether they love it or hate it, I don't care.  I just think it should touch everyone's life.  The Alchemist is on my son's 11th grade summer reading list, along with several other titles.  The kids get to select which books they read, but they have to read a certain number.  I'm excited that probably 90% of the 11th graders from my son's school will read it, simply because it is shorter than any other choices. 

If The Alchemist is not on reading lists in your area, it would make a great graduation or even wedding gift.  Although it doesn't rhyme or have illustrations like Oh! The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss, the message is the similar, and it will look a little more dignified on a dorm room book shelf.

My one criticism is that The Alchemist could be read to be sexist.  There aren't any meaningful female characters other than the gypsy at the beginning.  The Alchemist says that Santiago's love, Fatima's, Personal Legend is to find him.  It's demeaning to Fatima that her greatest goal should be to find a husband.  I choose to believe that a woman could fit into Santiago's role just as easily as a man could fit into Fatima's, and that the lessons should be read to apply to all.

I listened to The Alchemist on CD.  It was read by Jeremy Irons, who had a great voice for the story.  I also checked the CDs out of my library, so I am counting this for 3 challenges - The Rewind Challenge, The Audiobook Challenge, and The I Love Audiobooks Challenge.

Next Up on CD:  I'm already two discs into Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.

Still Reading:  Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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