Monday, September 20, 2010
A Fable Fit for Everyone.
The Book: The Alchemist
The Author: Paul Coelho
Year published: 1988
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
So I will start by clarifying why I read this book as part of a list about books in the 21st Century when it was, in fact, published in 1988. What you have to remember about this list I have chosen is that it is chosen "by the people" which is to stay that it does not necessarily follow the rules... or along those lines it doesn't even HAVE any rules. The garnering guideline here comes simply from the title of the list, "The Best Books of the 21st Century". And so, if the 122 people who have voted for The Alchemist were to be ignored, how sad would this "by the people" list be. After all, I wanted to read real books, gritty books, fantasy, fable, and tales... I wanted the people's reads. So, if some readers out there believe that The Alchemist is an important book in the 21st Century, I'm all for it. In fact, I have a feeling this very problem will arise in the future... there seem to be a few books that push beyond the boundary of the 21st Century, and I'm all for it. As long as I am reading good books then I am happy.
Okay, now... The real dirt on The Alchemist. Here is a quick background on the storyline for those of you who have never had the pleasure of reading it:
A young Spanish shepherd boy (who they refer to as "the boy" throughout, but is actually in reality over 18, so a boy-ish man I guess?) named Santiago sets out on an adventure to find a hidden treasure buried near the Pyramids in Egypt. He takes the guidance of a Gypsy woman and a mysterious king and decides to sell his sheep and set out for the Pyramids. He is to follow the "omens" to discover his "Personal Legend" (I will explain what this means later) and on the way Santiago faces love, danger, opportunity and disaster.
To begin, I will say that this book is more a fable than it is a novel. I make that distinction because it does not read like a novel, it reads almost like a parable (if you will), with a prophetic vision, a laboured lesson and an overarching theme that relates to human will and fate. Confused yet? Bare with me, this is my first review of the challenge. Perhaps, it would help if I explained to you the axis of the story, the "Personal Legend". Here is how they explain it in The Alchemist. The boy has just been approached by the mysterious king who says he is trying to help Santiago discover his "Personal Legend", from page 21:
The boy didn't know what a person's "Personal Legend" was.
"It's what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear, and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their "Personal Legend".
This quote here is the reason I can say I really connected to The Alchemist. Because, as much as it reads a fable there are life lessons woven so intricately into the tale of Santiago that it is almost impossible not to connect with the story. Everyone has their own "Personal Legend", and no matter how much of a pipe dream it may seem, I truly believe where there is a will there is a way. If you push hard enough you can make your dreams come true... unless of course that dream is something like running with the unicorns, or joining Peter Pan's posse of Lost Boys.... because that may just be impossible. Sorry to burst your bubble Pan fans. At the same time if you are reading this book for a story to get lost in you will be disappointed. The message is the medium in this case, the Santiago's story takes a backseat to the message
The one biggest piece of advice I would give a prospective reader of The Alchemist is to find time to sit down and read the book in its entirety. I really enjoyed the story, but putting it down every night and picking it up the next day made the story very disjointed. The time-line moves very fast and it is easy to get lost if you do not remember what you read the day before. I would have enjoyed the reading experience better if I had had the time to sit and read all 150 pages in secession. I would have been able to get lost in Santiago's world.