This was definitely my favorite book in high school, and it’s probably still in the top ten today. The novel discussed the language of the world and how it interacted with a Santiago’s search for treasure in the Pyramids of Giza. If you haven’t read the book, you have still likely heard one of its most famous quotes: “When you want something, all the world conspires in helping you achieve it”. I mentioned the nonsense you might see on inspirational posters in The Giver post, nonsense like “It’s OK to Be Different”. The BS inspirational poster that The Alchemist ultimately resembles and eschews is “Follow Your Dreams!”, probably with a star flying across the lamination or something. Paolo Coelho is not telling the reader he can do anything he sets his mind to; he’s saying that the universe recognizes hard work and dedication.
Perhaps the novel rings true because of the author himself. It’s hard to fathom that this novel, while undeniably enjoyable, would ever sell between 21 and 65 million copies (the number is debated). That level of success wasn’t launched from an excerpt being published in a literary magazine. It wasn’t picked up by a huge publishing house. No, Coelho published the novel through a small Brazilian publisher and he sold the novel door to door like he was in 19th century England. When he was met with disappointment, he and his wife went into the Mojave for two weeks to receive clarity, like they were the Entourage cast or something. Hell, Coelho cared about his book so much that he went all Radiohead and started streaming it online for free. (Speaking of free, thanks Wikipedia.) And just so you know he wasn’t just trying to get famous by any means necessary, know that he bought back the movie rights to his book from Warner Bros when the story was becoming absurd.
To recap, that’s a Brazilian publisher plus torrenting plus door-to-door plus a fun little vacay in the desert . The next step for Coehlo is to release the language of the world that he hears on Rosetta Stone, because the language I hear is telling me ‘you’re out of your mind, Paolo’. The adolescents should read this novel because it’s better motivation than what they’re getting now, like a seven-foot basketball star screaming “anything is possible!”. (To the seven-footers, Follow Your Dreams!) The danger is kids will want to fit a book’s message to their lives. A lazy student might think, “Language of the world, huh? OK. I hear the world telling me to smoke weed every day”. Fortunately, the language in Coelho’s novel isn’t a genie. Said student might hear some interesting things down the road, like “don’t worry about owning a tie” and “an ’89 Corolla will do for you”. Adolescents need to learn that the world is not round; the world is a triangle, and they’re on the upslope, the peak, or the downslope. If you subscribe to the logic in Coelho’s novel, the world will tell you where you stand and where you’re headed. Considering the alternative is being on your own, I’d say that’s kind of nice.