The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream, by Paul Coelho (translator not credited), tells the story of a young shepherd who consults a gypsy and then meets an enigmatic king. The boy is encouraged to follow his dream which involves abandoning his nomadic existence in Andalusia and seeking treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he is robbed and beaten. He must find work if he is to continue his journey. He opens himself to the possibility of omens and must decide when to share what he learns from these.
The boy recognises that he must choose between regarding himself as a victim or an adventurer. Although looking to his future, to fulfilling his quest, the importance of living in the present is often reiterated. The boy learns from every experience, including that a universal language exists to enable deeper understanding of self, other people and place.
The fable-like narrative is spiritual but not favouring any particular religion. Rather it encourages the reader to take time to observe surroundings and engage with nature.
I was somewhat put off the story by the buried treasure aspect – despite the obvious metaphor – and the repeated references to God. I enjoyed the appreciation of nature and the boy’s acceptance of setbacks – how he reasoned in order to find ways to continue. The story of his journey, personal and practical, is a device to pass on the author’s perceived wisdom. I wonder if he regards himself as the titular alchemist.
This wasn’t the tale I expected when I requested the book based on its many rave reviews. Although offering occasional nuggets of wisdom, I found progress slow in places. Evocative and smoothly written as it is, I am reluctant to recommend.
The Alchemist is published by Harper Collins.