You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Alchemist

The Alchemist is a novella by the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. The story is a parable about a shepherd boy in Spain who encounters an old man claiming to be a king. The old man gives him two magic stones and encourages him to pursue his dream: to find great treasure near the pyramids in Egypt. The important message the boy receives is, "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." This feel-good sentimentality is the main tone of the story. It was just too sweet and simplistic to me.

The boy sells his sheep and crosses the Mediterranean Sea to Africa, where a thief steals all his money. He manages to find work with a crystal salesman and earns even more money within a year. Now he is faced with a decision: whether to keep pursuing his dream or be satisfied with what he has. He continues, but he is further challenged when he reaches an oasis and meets a young woman. He also meets the alchemist, a mysterious source of wisdom. The alchemist specifically seeks out the boy instead of the young man seeking him, presumably because he knows who really needs his advice.

The resolution of the story is that he finds his treasure in his homeland, in the very place where he had the dream about his treasure. The moral seems to be that he had his treasure with him all along, throughout all his travels. The story is pretty mystical, culminating in the alchemist encouraging the boy to converse with the wind and the sun. The overall tone is inspirational, but I found it simplistic. The boy is encouraged to pursue his dreams, but perhaps he would have been happy staying a shepherd, or a crystal salesman. Of course, he never would have known if he could have reached his dream, but he also might wonder if he would have been happy staying a crystal salesman. This ignores some of the true wisdom of age, that perhaps not all fantasies should be pursued. Sometimes the wonders one finds along the way are the true gifts. The boy may have had to go through many travels to discover his happiness at home, but if he was happy already, then what was the point? C

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