The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Before we get into this review, I must make a slightly rambling confession about how terrible I am at challenges this year. I quit two earlier this year for lack of caring, promising myself I would instead focus on the challenges I wanted to do. But somehow this Orbis Terrarum one just completely fell off my radar. It was looking like I would fail, but then I discovered that there were a few foreign books that I hadn’t counted, them being from places like Canada and England, but even then I still needed one more. So I grabbed this book in audio form, intending to listen to it on the trip to Cleveland, but then I didn’t, and then all of a sudden it was practically the end of November (the ending date for the challenge) and I was like, “Noooo I’m going to faaaaail,” but then I found the book in print form at the library and I was like, “Yaaaaaay I’m not going to faaaaail,” and then I read this in a few hours because it’s rather short and finished the challenge with probably two hours to spare.

Ahem. What you should take away from that story is that I did not spend as much time with this book as one really ought to. It is strange and slightly difficult to follow at times, and while I think I understand some of what the book was trying to say, I am positive that I don’t have it all. I think this is one of those books that you need to read several times before you can stop only pretending to know what it’s about.

After reading number one, though, I can safely say that a major theme here is that everyone has something they need to do, and not terribly many people ever do that. The story follows along with a Spanish shepherd as he has a strange dream, finds out that the dream means he should go to the pyramids in Egypt and find a treasure, and then sets off to do that. He gets stopped several times along the way and thinks, “Ah, perhaps this thing that is not finding treasure is what I am really meant to do, I should just chill here for the rest of ever,” but always something pushes him on to his goal, and he eventually makes it to the pyramids and also learns how to become the wind, which is a pretty cool trick, I’d say.

This theme is interesting, because at first when the concept of a Personal Legend (this thing you need to do) came up, I was thinking it was along the lines of following your bliss or doing what you want to do rather than what others want you to. But that’s not it at all — there are many times when the shepherd knows exactly what he wants to do, but if it’s not finding that treasure then something happens or someone talks to him to change his mind. So that’s rather disappointing, because I’m sitting here not even knowing what I want to do, let alone knowing what strange path has been carved out for me that I ought to go seek out to find true happiness and fulfillment. Scratch disappointing, that’s downright depressing!

But another interesting thing that Coelho touches on is that people get even more depressed if they figure out what it is that they ought to be doing but for whatever reason, actual or mental, are unable to do it. So I suppose I could be feeling worse right now!

This is definitely a book that I will read again sometime, and probably will tell other people to read so that they can talk about it with me.

Recommendation: For those with some time for deep thought and at least a passing interest in philosophy.

Rating: 8/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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