Monday, March 8, 2010

RIVETING READS: The Alchemist

I’ve had a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for about six months. When I first brought it home, after borrowing it from a fellow teacher, I placed it neatly on my nightstand next to my radio alarm clock and water bottle. I was intrigued with the book, as it had drudged up a lot of discussion from our lunch group at work. Some loved it. Others hated it. And I was excited to read it.

Anyway, the same time I brought this book home, my two-year-old son developed a fascination with books of all shapes and sizes. You put a book down and he’s got it. He runs away and usually the book will end up at the bottom of the stairs. He just loves throwing things down the stairs. Books, toys, dishes (grr), anything. So naturally, The Alchemist went missing a mere minute after it was placed on the nightstand and seemed to vanish without a sticky-fingered trace. I looked everywhere. First the bottom of the stairs, then behind the nightstand, and under the treadmill. But it was nowhere to be found. Then two weeks ago it reappeared; the sticky-fingered bandit somehow waddled past my defenses and brought back the missing book. I am so glad he did, because from Prologue to Author Info—The Alchemist (HarperCollins) is inspirational, simple, and sweet.

The story begins in with a young shepherd named Santiago who has big dreams. A literal dream that Santiago has is of finding a secret treasure in Egypt. He begins searching for this treasure casually at first, until he meets a mysterious man who desires to help him find his “Personal Legend”. The concept of the Personal Legend goes something like this: every person has a Personal Legend or something that they desire above all other things. The universe works together to realize this dream, while not interfering with free will and choice. Now that Santiago has determined that treasure in Egypt is his Personal Legend, he takes the plunge and goes looking. He encounters several obstacles in this endeavor, including his own doubts and inhibitions, but in the end, Santiago follows the magnetic pull toward his life’s goal. After setbacks, adventures, side-jobs, and distractions Santiago finally realizes his dream.

Coelho’s real life would make a thrilling read. A native of Brazil, Coelho knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. His family did little to foster this ideal, and instead tried to sway him from his dream. Eventually his inability to change life goals angered and confused his family and landed him in a mental institution on two different occasions. Later as an adult, Coelho was a journalist with his own magazine called 2001, and then joined the Brazilian rock group as a lyricist. Soon his political ties and progressive ideals upset the repressive government. He was kidnapped and tortured for his protests on freedom. In the years to follow, Coelho took up writing again. He became successful and has published more than half a dozen novels, including Veronika Decides to Die and Eleven Minutes.

The Alchemist is a touching read for people of most ages.

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