The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Harper, 2006)

When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dreams. -- Paulo Coelho

The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation. All things are one.-- Paulo Coelho

Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd. He wanders the Andalusian countryside seeking out fresh pastures and water for his sheep. They never travel the same route twice.

Santiago was schooled in a seminary, where he learnt Spanish and Latin. He was destined for the priesthood, but he had other ideas. He wanted to travel, to see other parts. As a poor boy, the only way to travel was to become a shepherd.

Would Santiago have experienced God if he had remained in the seminary? Santiago thinks not. Every new experience helps him to experience God.

A fateful moment in his life is when he has a dream. A boy is playing with his sheep, then takes him to the Pyramids where he is told he will find treasure, but at this point he wakes.

Following a visit to an old woman to have his dream interpreted, he is sitting in the plaza trying to read a book he has just acquired, when an old man engages him in conversation. The old man tells him to follow his dream, to interpret the omens, to follow his destiny.

I do not know why, but I always envisage the plaza in Punta Brava, near Puerto de la Cruz. I cannot imagine the scene without seeing it enacted by little Lego brick characters. [see The Alchemist: Santiago Meets the Old Man]

Santiago heeds the advice of the old man, sells all his sheep and sets of for Africa.

In Tangiers disaster strikes. He is cheated out of his money. One moment he has gold in his pocket, the next moment he is penniless.

What to do?

Most people would sink into self-pity. At first Santiago does sit and cry. Then he realises he always wanted adventure, instead of seeing himself in a strange place, he thinks of it as a new place, the start of his adventure.

He helps a man set up his stall in the market place, then gets himself a job with a crystal merchant.

Almost a year on, Santiago finds himself with sufficient money to buy 120 sheep, twice as many as he had before, and he can now converse in Arabic.

He thinks of going back to Andalusia, but then decides no, he will continue on his journey to the Pyramids, so he joins a caravan heading across the desert.

Whilst in Tangiers working for the crystal merchant in his shop, Santiago learnt more than Arabic, more than crystals, he learnt the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose. He had learnt how to heed omens, to follow his destiny.

The Alchemist is about realising one's dreams, following one's destiny, being able to read the omens.

There is an implicit reference to William Blake in The Alchemist, when as they are crossing the desert the alchemist tells Santiago 'You don't even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.'

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake is a favourite author of Paulo Coelho

Most writers write one good book (if we are lucky), then nothing else worth writing or a rehash of what has gone before.

Great writers write many good books.

Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho (1947- ) is in the rarefied league of great writers. His writings are simple, yet in their simplicity lies their elegance.

He does not rehash the same book, but there are themes running through that the link the books together the Warrior of Light, the flow of a river, destiny, ability to read the omens, following and realising one's dreams.

We all have dreams, the difference is that some of us follow our dreams.

Santiago follows his dreams, he learns how to read the omens.

We need to cleanse our minds of our negative thoughts.

When you want something badly enough, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Also worth reading:

Paulo Coelho, Like the Flowing River

Deepak Chopra, How to Know God

and the works of Hermann Hesse.

Several copies of The Alchemist have been registered as BookCrossing books.

BookCrossing books are released into the wild and their progress checked on the Internet via a unique BookCrossing ID (BCID).

Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2007-2009 -- July 2009 rev 5