Alchemist

February 16th 2020

Today I finished reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It’s a book that I bought four hours ago, in a tiny bookstore called Petronella’s in the lakeside village of Tekapo, on New Zealand’s South Island.

I needed a new book to accompany my four hour bus journey, so popped into Petronella’s before waiting for my bus. There wasn’t a wide range of fiction choices – just two bookcases in the whole store – so not much caught my eye. But The Alchemist did. It’s a book I’ve seen recommended on many “books you have to read” lists, and so I listened to the lists and took it to the counter.

The lovely, and friendly old lady behind the counter took my book and said “what a coincidence” and walked over to the chair on which she was previously sitting and picked up her own copy of The Alchemist. “I’m reading it too!” she said. A good omen. Her copy was completely battered with water damage, and torn pages, so I commented on that. “I’m borrowing it from a friend, who got it second hand from another friend,” she told me. I noted that the best books are ones you want to share with your friends.

And it turns out, I was right. The Alchemist is the best, most important book I’ve read in my life. And I’m sure I’m biased by the recency and the romance of the purchase, but it genuinely changed me, and moved me, and spoke to me.

Given where I am, and what I’m feeling (read last night’s post for further detail) I’m sure you can imagine the impact that the following passage had on me.

I can always go back to being a shepherd, the boy thought. I learned how to care for sheep, and I haven’t forgotten how that’s done. But maybe I’ll never have another chance to get to the Pyramids of Egypt.

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

With each page I found another passage that spoke to me. Notably:

Because wherever your heart is, that’s where you’ll find your treasure. […] You will never again be able to keep your heart quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside of you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world.

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I’m not going to talk about the plot, because the book is less about the story and more about the journey it takes you on. And also, you have to read it for yourself. But please read it.

It taught me so much about the world, and what I want from it, and it – quite creepily – echoed the exact words that my friend Jim said to me last night. “You need to just follow your heart, not your head”

And so, my heart is taking me back South to Queenstown, rather than north to Christchurch.

Until tomorrow, I’m going to the Pyramids of Egypt.

Jacn

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