The Red Couch: The Alchemist Introduction



When I first picked up my tattered paperback copy of the worldwide bestseller The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I wasn’t sure what I’d find inside.

Some people raved about the illuminated truths in its pages and how it changed their lives.

Others said it was total malarky.

At first glance, The Alchemist is a simple allegory about a shepherd boy, Santiago, on a quest to find treasure amid his travels. Dig a bit deeper, however, and the story comes alive with symbolism, mysticism and universal truths we’ve all faced at one time or another.

Lest you want to dismiss it for any literary reason of your own choosing, consider this:

The Alchemist has been translated into more than 8o languages. It spent more than 300 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and is also the most translated book on the planet by any living author.

As I began to read, I was unexpectedly drawn into Santiago’s world. I began to see myself in his story. His dreams and fears, his realizations and epiphanies—like all good literature, both led me further into his journey, while bringing me to the core of my own.

For as long as I can possibly remember, I’ve been a dreamer and an adventurer. Though its true that often, those words sometimes feel cliched and overused, there’s a reason many of us utter them at some point in our lives—they are universal, and felt in some form by most everyone in all walks of life.

Coelho says in the introduction:

“All I know is that, like Santiago the shepherd boy, we all need to be aware of our personal calling … If you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here …” {p. viii}

In the midst of a world full of strife and conflict, unanswered questions, quicksand beneath our toes, and situations that require more than status quo answers—we can read this beautiful and simple story and not only be taken outside of ourselves, but perhaps be better equipped to face our fears and wonders with a dose of courage and what Coelho describes as “the language of enthusiasm.”

This mythical fable also uses terminology such as “omens,” “personal legends” and “soul of the world” to help us understand our own stories more clearly.

Coelho says it best at the end of the book’s introduction:

“I am reminded that it is within our power to build a bridge to be crossed. Even if my neighbor doesn’t understand my religion or understand my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he’s never too far from me …”  {p. x, 25th anniversary edition introduction}


Alchemist discussion

Come back Tuesday, Sept. 22 to discuss The Alchemist in our Facebook group. You can RSVP here or just plan to show up at 6pm PST/8pm CDT/9pm EST.

October’s book is One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss.

Are you reading The Alchemist with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.

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