The Alchemist

Okay, here goes book post number two. It seems like I’m having MUCH better luck with fiction right now. My last successful read was Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, but in the meanwhile I had tried (and failed) to get into; The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Usually I can dig the semi-inspirational, self-help, crap, but it’s all starting to sound the same. (However, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters was pretty good. Not too long, and largely anecdotal. If you’ve got a mind curious about venturing into business, this book is a pretty digestible nugget of information.)

Anyway… The Alchemist

I keep debating whether or not book articles make sense in a “travel blog”, but so far the underlying theme of any literature has still been travel and adventure. Part of what encouraged me to read this book was the podcast by Tim Ferriss. Overall, this Q&A style interview is pretty good. Lots of the usual “how to be a writer” kind of things you’d expect. For example…

There are only four types of stories: love story between 2 people, lovestory between 3 people, a struggle for power, and a journey.

Lucky for us, The Alchemist falls into the final category, a journey. (Yes, there IS a bit of a love story, but that’s hardly the focus.) In fact, the story of The Alchemist is such a linear travel that there are tons of sites and resources dedicated simply to tracking Santiago’s path from Spain to the pyramids in Egypt. I found The Alchemist Map by Prezi to be a nice overview, and the following Google Map does a nice job of visualizing where key parts of the book take place.

Unlike Fierce Invalids…, The Alchemist really is a book that just about everyone can enjoy, and probably find a great deal of meaning within.  After only a matter of pages I found myself being a little shocked by just how much the story and it’s message seemed tailored specifically to the way I was feeling at the moment.

People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.

Yes, that particular quote is pretty vague, but take a moment to browse the Goodreads list of quotes and you’ll get the idea.

The tale continues to be inspiring and enchanting for the duration, but eventually I started to realize that it was one of THOSE kinds of allegories, the type that was both vague and specific in such a way as to sound believable in any context. Much like reading your horoscope, The Alchemist can easily play tricks with the mind and leave it believing that the message written to everyone has a special meaning just for you.

But don’t take that the wrong way. The Alchemist is still one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’d even go as far as to say that it should be available to everyone at some point in their life. Young readers will enjoy the adventure, and the youthful main character. And the “deep” messages and metaphors aren’t so obscure as to make the subject matter  seem boring. Book lovers will certainly enjoy it. (It IS an international bestseller available in 50+ languages, and selling over 60 million copies…) But casual readers of all kinds will find it’s pages welcoming as well. The book itself isn’t very long, and it breaks down nicely into a series of mini-adventures.

All Giza Pyramids
All Giza Pyramids

So, what’s it all about?

Principally it is about destiny, but maybe more of a manifest destiny. The book certainly doesn’t sing the tune of “que sera sera, whatever will be will be…” The main message seems to be that each of us has our own personal legend, some sort of exceptional destiny that requires just a little extra effort on our end. At more than one point in the book, the young man has the choice of staying where he is, somewhere far better than where he was previously, or leaving everything behind to pursue his dreams into the unknown.

No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.

and…

“Don’t think about what you’ve left behind” The alchemist said to the boy as they began to ride across the sands of the desert. “If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return.

There is plenty of talk of “omens”, the power of love, and a little bit of spiritual hocus-pocus. For a long time the book seems to be fairly factual, but things do get a little blurry near the end, and you can’t say this is anything but fantasy. But a fantasy much like Aesop’s Fables. There aren’t any talking animals in The Alchemist, but nature does get personified in several ways, and that is good. One of the secondary themes of the book seems to be man vs. nature and the discussion of whether or not they are cooperative or competing forces in the world.

But, if nothing else, it is a fun book. I knocked it out in about four days while driving back and forth to work. (If it weren’t for audio books, I’d never read) You can find it for as little as $5 on Amazon, or snag it from the library. I’d rarely say that a book is worthwhile for everyone to read, but The Alchemist is certainly worth a shot.

Maktub. So it is written.

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