I never read "Paulo Coelho" but I was told a lot about his book "The Alchemist". I wanted to give it a try and read the whole book in around 2.5 hrs. It is a small book and you can easily finish it in a short time, like I did, but possibly it takes a lot more time to sink its message inside you.
So what is this book all about? It is the story of a shepherd boy who follows his dreams and finally finds the treasure he dreamt of. The title "Alchemist" most probably refers to this boy because he finally realizes his destiny & discovers the "soul of the world".
Book's central theme:
Every one of us has a mission on earth, a destiny to reach. It is our only obligation on earth. If you listen to your heart, you will know your destiny. And if you really put your heart in realizing your destiny, the whole universe will conspire you to achieve it.
The book says that there is something called "Beginner's luck" which offers initial support in your trip to destiny. But then it also warns that you will be "really tested" in the final stages of realizing the destiny. It asks us to listen to the omens, listen to your heart and march ahead in the path of our dreams.
The book also offers some Alchemy principles. For someone like me, who does not know even the basics of Alchemy, it is interesting to read these things. Here is what I understood:
Every thing on the earth has a "soul" called the "soul of the world". When we want something with our whole heart, we come closer to this "soul of the world". It is a great positive force to be so and the universe carries you in its current to achieve your destiny. Alchemy is actually about discovering this "soul of the world". The "soul of the world" allows us to understand anything on the earth because it is the language with which all things communicated. When a metal gets heated for long, it loses its unique properties and what was left would be "soul of the world". The alchemists call this the "Master Work". Master work is part solid and part liquid. Solid part is called "Philosopher's stone" and can turn anything into gold. Liquid part is called "The elixir of life" and can cure any illness.
Philosophically, Alchemy claims that the world is only the visible aspect of God. What Alchemy does is to bring spiritual perfection into contact with material plane.
1. The shepherd boy: He signifies a person who knows his dreams and unrelentingly attempts to realize them. The "comfort zone" which prevents the boy initially, "the fears" he has about realizing the dreams, "his frustrations" about his failures in the path are all explored and he is finally shown as a guy who overcomes all these things to meet his destiny.
2. The crystal shop merchant: He is a guy who knows his dreams but refuses to pursue them because of his fear that nothing would be left in life if we realize our dreams! He symbolizes many of us, who never start our dream journey because of our own fears. The author aptly says "There is nothing to stop you except yourself" & "The fear of failure is what keeps you from working towards your dreams"
3. The camel driver: He is a person who lives in the present. He is happy because he concentrates on what he has and enjoys his present work. He doesn't live in either the past or the future. Life is a party for him, every day.
One may think that this "living in the present" contradicts "dreaming about your destiny". Because after all, destiny is in the future. But I think the message here is to "Live in the present and dream about your destiny". We should dream but never forget the present, the reality because it is only through acting in the present we fulfill our dreams. Just dreaming without minding the present, prevents action and you will always be in dreams.
4. The English man: He signifies a person who is in the right path & knows his destiny. But he is more immersed in knowledge and never really acts. He realizes this when he meets the old alchemist and begins his "Master work". The alchemist comments referring to people like the English man - " They were only looking for gold. They were seeking the treasure of their destiny, without wanting actually to live out the destiny"
The book has many thought provoking quotes. I put some of them here:
1. When you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favor.
2. 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.
3. If you start out by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work toward getting it.
4. The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.
5. You must always know what is that you want.
6. In the long run, what people think about you becomes more important to you than realizing your own destiny.
7. Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the language of the world.
8. Don't think about what you have left behind.
9. There is only one way to learn. It's through action.
10. The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.
11. Love is a force that transforms and improves the soul of the world. When we love, we always strive to become better than what we are.