Book Review: The Alchemist

“Maktub,” the merchant said, finally.
“What does that mean?”
“You would have to be born an Arab to understand,” he answered. “But in your language it would be something like ‘It is written.’”

Ardha Baddha Pamotatanasana

I just read The Alchemist, and it was brilliant. Yes, I do realize I’m a little late to the game on this realization. Paulo Coelho’s gorgeously simple story is on bestseller list in 74 different countries and has been read in 57 different languages, making it the most translated book by any living author. Essentially, I may be the last person on earth to read this book. Just in case I’m not, however, and you, dear reader, somehow also missed this little masterpiece, I’m here to recommend that you join the rest of the literate world in picking up a copy now. You’ll be glad you did.

This sweet little allegory of personal transformation is neatly packaged for easy devouring. At barely more than a hundred pages (at least in the Nook edition), you could enjoy this tale in the course of a perfect autumn evening in. And you’ll want to. Cancel your plans for the night, make a cup of tea, and reserve the evening for Coelho, because once you pick this beauty up, you won’t be wanting to put it down.

The novel is, first and foremost, a wake-up call. It is a gentle reminder of something we all knew once and lost, an intuition grown rusty with lack of use. Coelho’s young protagonist, a shepherd, goes on a quest for fortune guided by the promise of a prophetic dream. The journey, however, is not straight forward, and along the way the young man learns about his Personal Legend, and what following it means for recognizing himself as part of the Soul of the World.

The tale is simple, with the feel of a children’s bedtime story. Coelho doesn’t bother with frills and flourishes of language. This book isn’t built to be clever or cutting – it’s created out of fundamental wisdom, sharing simple but oft-forgotten truths, and the author’s use of words reflects this candor. These are truths we’ve always known, and been made by the world to ignore. Coelho is, in a way, playing the role of the title character, cueing us in to an intuition we have all, at some point or another, silenced and pushed aside to our detriment. “I only invoked what you already knew,” the alchemist tells the boy when he expresses his gratitude for all he has learned. Coelho does the same, reminding us of wisdom we were born knowing, while never resulting to preaching or patronizing.

I won’t claim this book will change your life. That, as the novel so gracefully shows, is entirely up to you. I will warn you, however, that the potential is there. Once you wake up to intuition, once you start to get back in touch with that innate wisdom we all learn to ignore, it’s difficult to go back. Be careful. You may just find yourself selling all your sheep to go see the Pyramids. And, “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…”

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About the Reviewer: Jessie Horness

Jessie is an Ashtanga practitioner and yoga instructor (though she is happiest as a student) proud to live in beautiful Northern Michigan. Off the mat, she loves playing with words, whether that means writing them or reading them, and exploring the world on as many adventures as possible. The path to her heart is paved with witty conversation, quality music, and vegan milkshakes. You can find more of her ponderings on www.jessiehorness.com

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