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Book Review: The Alchemist

I found The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, to be deceptively simple at a first glance, but quite deep in reality. It is about the importance of seeking one’s own meaning of life and spending one’s life fulfilling it. 

Paul Coelho calls it seeking one’s “Personal Legend.” Doesn't that sound sort of fairytale-like? This story about a young Shepherd boy, Santiago who embarks on a courageous journey of self-discovery, comes across like a fairytale. Unlike the classic fairytale however, we are given a process, alongside possible stumbling blocks, set in a coming of age style fairytale. Does that even make sense to you?

Coelho explains that there is the need to come to the realization that our lives are dictated by what is acceptable. This is revealed in our customs, our family traditions and expectations of how our lives should be, the laws of the land where we leave and tradition. We must be willing to strike new paths in a brave new world to find a special Personal Legend. We must be willing to brave disapproval from our nearest and dearest, something that is always so difficult to do. 
Sometimes we must be willing to acknowledge that love may turn out to be an obstacle. Why do I say this?
We've been led to believe, especially as women that we have to sacrifice all for the happiness of our loved ones. The Alchemist forces us to reevaluate our perception of love. The author contends that " never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit it's because it wasn't true love."
Thus he makes it clear that there is no need to give up our Personal Legend or dreams in order to live the way the other person wants us to. No need at all. After all, has it not always been said that 'if something is yours and you let it go and it comes back to you, then it was truly yours. If it doesn't then, it was never yours.'

Coming to the conclusion that love means not giving up your dreams for anybody tends to be tough. Sometimes, living with a decision to stick with your guns in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles appears too hard and there is that urge to give up. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

Giving up would however be the worst thing you could do in your life. This is because in giving up, one has failed to achieve one's dreams, just by dodging the hardships that would be necessary to achieve our Personal Legend. This is illustrated where :“My heart is a traitor,” the boy said to the alchemist, when they had paused to rest the horses. It doesn’t want me to go on.That makes sense,” the alchemist answered. “Naturally it’s afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won."

The struggle to discover our Personal Legend doesn't end here. Guilt is a major obstacle. This is because after achieving what you have, and looking around, you would find that you are in a minority. So we hide our achievements. This too is a bridge to cross.

In conclusion, let's take a look at the book title, The Alchemist. In the same way an alchemist turns metal into gold, we are encouraged to turn our potentially ordinary lives to golden achievements. My father made me memorize a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson when I was very young which has resonated strongly with me over the years "Most of the shadows in our lives are caused by standing in our own sunshine". In comparing that quote to The Alchemist, I'm drawn back to a period in the book where our protagonist was nearly tempted by pride to return home before he had even embarked on his treasure hunt. Just imagine the life full of regrets he would have endured, had he turned back.

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