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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Alchemist

I just finished The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It was a birthday present from my cousin, who taught English in France (two years ago?) and found the book very “traveler appropriate.” It is definitely appropriate for someone who decides to leave home in any capacity, in more ways than one.

The book is about a boy looking for his Personal Legend, or to fulfill his purpose in life and pursue what it is that will truly make him happy. He is at first expected to become a priest in his home, Andalusia, but has a thirst for travel, so becomes a shepherd. By a series of coincidents and through meeting a variety of characters, he undertakes a quest to Egypt to find his “treasure.” Along the way, he discovers that the experiences he has are what matter most in obtaining his Personal Legend, because they teach him not only about the world, but about himself. The boy learns how to exist as himself in the world.

The book as a whole has a very patient, ethereal feel to it. I preferred the first half because it was grounded in very real events and how the boy felt about them and reacted to them. I guess I related most to this half, because this is when the boy leaves his home country and everything familiar to him to travel to Egypt. He is in a new, foreign place, knowing that there is a Universal Language he is able to interpret and yet being surrounded by strange new Arabic culture, language, and people. He has doubts, he wants to return to the safety and security of shepherding, something he knows and is good at. How can I help but relate?

The second half of the book focuses more on spiritual matters and, I feel, gets a little preachy in its repetitiveness. Its main message, in cliché terms, is “listen to the heart.” This could be interpreted as “trust your instincts,” but I came away from the novel feeling that the important thing to do no matter where and what one decides to do is to learn to know themselves. Maybe people ignore their true selves—their desires, their passions, their curiosities, their fears—to keep their lives on an “even keel.” The more I read about the characters the boy meets and saw they way the boy became more self-aware throughout the story, the more I realized the way that people ignore themselves. I could probably find countless instances of doing it myself throughout a single day.

I guess the “moral of the story” is “to thine own self be true,”—obviously, much easier said than done. This book allows readers to watch a character learn how to do that.

1 comment:

37oline said...

this you'll have to explain to me, because i just geek out on the whole finding your authentic self thing, and don't get it at all:

who are you if you're being someone other than yourself? are you consciously, unconsciously, modeling someone, something else?

what difference is there between being and doing? (i think there is one, but i'm not sure what it is, and i'm thinking of men who beat their wives who insist, "it wasn't the real me doing it." who did it then? an extreme case, admittedly, but pertinent to the question.)

tell me. i want to understand.