Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Alchemist

Sometimes there are books that just keep popping up out of nowhere. Every time I went to Barnes and Noble I looked at The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, knowing that it was a contemporary classic that several people I know had read. My mom, for the past few months, had (probably unknowingly) mentioned it several times. So I finally relented. Not that I had any good reason not to read it. I wanted to read it, really.

It's a really short read and it actually reads like a fable or a parable. The main character's name is only given at the very beginning and then he is referred to as "the boy." I'm still trying to figure out the significance of that.

For this review, I'm just going to share some gems I found in the book. But, before I do that, I should explain my reasoning behind this tactic.

Throughout the story are stories within the main story which is quite a remarkable feat simply because of the shortness of the main story. One of the stories within the story is about a young man who wants to learn the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. Once he finally meets the wisest man he is told to carry a spoonful of oil through a beautiful castle without spilling a drop. The young man does as he is told and returns to the wise man without a drop of oil spilled. When the wise man asks the young man about the beautiful tapestries in the castle he cannot answer because he did not see them. He had been too preoccupied with the oil on his spoon (I have oversimplified the story and told it not-so-prettily. If you want the pretty version, read the book!).

Coelho set up the book in an interesting way. He has set up little gems nestled beautifully within the words of the story. However, if, like the young man with the oil on his spoon, you get too carried away with technicalities or if you're not paying attention, you will miss these gems completely. It is a master of the writing art that can pull off such a feat.

So here are some of the gems I found:

"What's the world's greatest lie?" the boy asked, completely surprised.
"It's this: That at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie (18)."

"He still had some doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision (68)."

"The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect. God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom. That's what I mean by action (127)."

"...all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation (127)."

"You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it's better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you'll never have to fear an unanticipated blow (129)."

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity (130)."

"Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him," his heart said. "We, people's hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them---the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.

"So, we, their hearts, speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won't be heard: we don't want people to suffer because they don't follow their hearts (131)."

Those are only a handful of the beautiful gems of wisdom in this story. Very few books are life-changing or have the ability to alter your perception on things around you, but this one is definitely one of them.

I give it five out of five salmon patties. Go read it!


  1. Okay, I'm all caught up on your posts. First of all, before I forget, I just finished reading My Sister's Keeper. It was interesting and maddening all at the same time. However, I'm a little hesitant to read her other books as it had the f-word in it about 30 times. I hate that. So, is Salem Falls that way? If so, I don't know if I can bring myself to reading it.
    Also, I wanted to say that I think it's so sweet the relationship you have with Gigi. I bet you're one of her heroes. And for the record, her nicknames are not NEARLY as strange as mine (or my family's for that matter). Here are some of my favorites: Sponjagulator, Pongo, On-beline and Willy. Now do you feel a little more normal? :)

  2. Truthfully, not a big fan of this book. Yes, there were some great lines and concepts but after I was half-way through the book it was torture to try and get through the rest. Here's two more that I struggled with that I'm thinking you liked: Atonement, and Love in the Time of Cholera. Bleh. Rough times. Hope that doesn't change your opinion of me!

  3. Ariana: Salem Falls has f-words in it. So ya probably shouldn't read it. It wasn't my favorite of hers. Try Second Glance. That was probably my most favorite of Picoult's. And yeah, Gigi and I have a great relationship. We noticed that she may be contrary because of me. Who'da thunk? I do feel a little more normal. Thanks!

    Kelli: No worries. We are not meant to like all the same books. I loved Atonement. I've never read Love in the Time of Cholera but have no desire to read it. The Alchemist is weird because it's so repetitive and stuff. I think it may be because of the point I'm at in my life where I am needing to make a decision and such...that could be why I liked it so much. If that makes sense.