The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of those books that once I read it, I had to wonder–how did I overlook it? It takes me back to a whole host of other books which share the inspirational aspects as well as some elements of style. Mostly, it shares profundity. Books like Candide–to which this book’s main similarity is an innocent on a journey of discovery. Candide is a savage satirical attack on philosophical foibles of the time it was written. In the end, he dismisses “best of all possible words” view of suffering offered by Pangloss with the realistic perspective “That’s well said,” . . .”but we must cultivate our garden.”
It also reminds me of both Cervantes and Lewis Carroll. As with the Alchemist, (more so than Candide), it is quite useful for youth. Alice and Through the Looking Glass offer much in wordplay to the writer and clearer understanding for anyone in communicating–“Say what you mean,” says the March Hare to Alice. “I mean what I say,” Alice replies. Clearly she doesn’t understand. I used to read those books every several years. It’s been decades now. Perhaps it’s time again.
As for Cervantes, Don Quixote is on a quest like Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd in the Alchemist. Quixote, the dreamer is counterbalanced by his realist companion Sancho Panza. Eventually, they come to exchange perspectives. Santiago does a bit of that as well with the various people he meets. Like Candide, he too suffers losses–not quite as severe but nearly as surreal as Voltaire’s protagonist.
Finally, I found a lot of Buddhism in the Alchemist. Seeing and understanding omens for one. A capacity that anyone can acquire but few have. For the Catholic Coelho, it perhaps came from a pilgrimage he made two years before the publication of this book. He explains the realizations that Santiago comes to through his experiences and through the interaction with the various teachers, of sorts, that he encounters. It reinforces my faith and determination that following dreams is essential but happiness lies as much in the process as the result. It’s all there in the effort–remaining undeterred by the obstacles one confronts.