Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Alchemist

Much like my hunger to write, my hunger to read is no less strong. I've always been a great reader, and it's heartening to know it's a passion even Berkeley, which virtually force fed me hundreds and hundreds of pages per week for four years, has not extinguished.

As a matter of habit, I normally juggle several books at a time, and did so even before it was necessary as an undergrad. Having completed La Bete Humaine, I've again turned my attention to Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. As a second matter of habit, I always read the first sentence of a book, and the last sentence, and then read the entire thing at once to "fill in" the middle; additionally, as a third matter of habit, I usually make it a point not to read the lastest fad books or best sellers; this is because I'm stubborn, and don't want popular opinion to necessarily inform my reading decisions, and because I'd rather let the hype die before I decide to invest my time in a book. After all, deciding to read a book is nothing more than the act of deciding to give a part of one's life to a suspension of reality, to a realm of fiction, and this means serious business, because the hours spent suspended in a book are hours that can never be reclaimed for oneself. It is of utmost importance, then, in my opinion, that the books be well chosen, if possible. This is what led me to delay giving attention to this book. Several years ago, I distinctly remember seeing an English language copy of this slim volume scattered across the shelves at Borders and Barnes and Noble near the front of the store, meaning near the bestsellers, and therefore meaning many people were reading it. Naturally, I declined to do the same.

Now that several years have passed, and I am again at liberty to read for pleasure, I was surprised to see a French language version on the bookshelf in my room. My room is on the third floor in the Febvret household, and it's here they keep a bookshelf for storage space and reading materials, so the book beckoned me. I figure that until the inevitable day when I succumb to learning Spanish (or more specifically in this case, Portugese), I'll have to read the book in translation; this saddens me a bit, because I wish I could read all books in the original--now that I understand what is truly lost in translation, I'll never be able to look at foreign literature the same way, wondering what I'm missing in the gap between two conceptions of the world. Alas, I'm human, and can only master so many languages, and so I'm reading The Alchemist in French.

My only major regret is reading it sooner. It's a simple tale, told simply, but in my opinion, that's where its beauty lies. My mind is buzzing crazily thinking about time and travel and space and love; it's a perfect book to be reading right now because it postulates a lot about what it means to see the world, and how that affects one as a person. It meditates on the idea of being transitory, what it means not to be 'rooted,' so to speak, to not be tied to anyone or any one thing. I'm interested in this, because I passed much of this past summer feeling entirely transitory and uprooted, a vagrant wanderer.

So you see, this book is speaking to me, shouting at me from the top of its lungs; there are rare books in this world that find us at the perfect place and time in our lives, that resonate so sharply with our experience of life that we're certain we will hold on to their impressions forever and shall never be the same. This appears to be one of those rare books for me. I'm only about 40 pages in and there are already a feast of quotes I'm mulling over. I'm dying to discuss it with someone, because I see so much in it. It strikes the same note with me, the same philosophical, beautiful note that Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Le Petit Prince did.

I'll leave you with my favorite quote of the day, in French:

" Mais, dans le fond de son coeur, il savait que c'etait loin d'etre sans importance. Et que les bergers, comme les marins, ou les commis voyageurs, connaissent toujours une ville ou existe quelqu'un capable de leur faire oublier le plaisir de courir le monde en toute liberte."

In English:

"But, in the depths of his heart, he knew that this was far from being unimportant. And that shepherds, like sailors, or traveling salemen, always know of a city where someone capable of making them forget the pleasure of running about the world at all liberty exists."


  1. I feel like I told you to read this book, and you didn't because you said it was too popular.

  2. So Lindsay...what is the book shouting to you?

  3. well, i'm not done with it yet, but so far:

    1) Life is what you make of it
    2) Go see the world,but know that there will someday somewhere be someone who will make you realize love is the most important adventure in this life.
    3) There is beauty in dreams, so never stop dreaming.

    I'll let you know what I really think when I'm done...but that's what I see for now.

  4. I bought the Alchemist in Portuguese as kind of a similar concept... it's one of my favorite books and I was dying to read it again but I thought I'd give myself the extra challenge of reading it in it's original language. Let me know when you learn Portuguese because there is another famous Brazilian novel you would probably appreciate.

  5. @Nikki: Will do! I need to learn about five bajillion languages right now, but I can (mostly) read Spanish, so I'm thinking Portugese won't be that big of a jump. Hope you're well!