The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, is a book like none I’ve ever read before. To me, it seems to break several rules regarding novel writing—it doesn’t have chapters—and the main character, Santiago, is merely called “the boy” throughout the story. But, even so, the story works and it floats through your mind and heart like a whisper of wind speaking of legends and eternal truths.
Coelho writes the story as though he is in your living room telling it in person. I can almost see the group gathered around as he speaks of the shepherd boy. His face wrinkles in thought as he occasionally pauses for effect, and he strokes his beard as he talks fondly of the boy and his adventure.
The story begins with the boy settling in for the night inside the ruins of an of an old church. The boy is on his way to a town where he will sell his sheep’s wool. He was there a year ago, and the merchant’s daughter caught his eye. He is anxious to return and see if she remembers him. After awakening before dawn having had a dream that he has had before, he decides the church is haunted.
In town, he meets a gypsy who interprets his dream for him—he is to travel to the pyramids in Egypt, and near them he will find his treasure. This is his Personal Legend—or his mission in life. It sounds too bizarre to be true, but soon after, he meets an old man who says his name is Melchizedek. He gives the boy two stones, one black and one white. They are called Urim and Thummim and can help him read omens.
Melchizedek concurs with the gypsy, and this starts a long journey for the boy. Several times he is tempted to give up and go back home. But each time the road gets hard, he remembers what Melchizedek told him. “If you want something bad enough, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
The universe might have conspired, but it didn’t make the way easy. Everything the boy owns it stolen from him on three occasions. Instead of becoming bitter, he works hard and earns it back. He meets others along the way who are happily ignoring their Personal Legend, and some are even afraid of achieving it. The boy thinks that perhaps he will ignore his, too, but eventually he persists. When he falls in love, the boy is no longer interested in following his Personal Legend. But the girl is wise. She knows that he will never be happy if he doesn’t follow after his dream. She tells him to go, and if he comes back, she will be waiting.
This is a story of following your heart, and of dusting yourself off and continuing on in the face of adversity—it reminds us while we’re reading that money isn’t everything—and even love cannot make us happy when we aren't happy with ourselves. Although I enjoyed the book, I felt it had an odd little ending that left me hanging. But, the book mirrors life this way; even though we achieve our goal, we still have the rest of our life to live. Our life-story isn’t over until we meet our Great Redeemer. We gain new dreams and adventures with every day. Just don’t be afraid to take that first step and then follow through.