THE ALCHEMIST, by Paulo Coelho (HarperSanFrancisco, $18.00) is about that certain click one gets when pursuing his/her true path. Set in Saharan Africa sometime between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, it involves recognizing omens along life's journey that can be used to achieve dreams. It is about the interconnectedness of all things; the "Soul of the World" from which all things spring. It is that common bond which makes alchemy - the changing of lead to gold; adversity to opportunity - possible. Through the story's protagonist, a Spanish boy named Santiago, Coelho guides the reader through the process of recognizing opportunities that will ultimately lead one to know and trust their heart. In so doing, the author puts us in the shoes of Santiago, and himself in the role of the alchemist, although in the interconnected world of Coelho they're one and the same.
Coelho writes in Portuguese, so it's hard to judge his writing from a work that's been translated to English. But suffice to say, THE ALCHEMIST is original and thoroughly enjoyable. The author comes off a bit heavy-handed in his presentation of some concepts in the story, but bear in mind he hasn't written a novel; THE ALCHEMIST is a fable, and as such is intent on delivering the writer's truth via a platform of fiction. It's this truth - philosophy, if you will - that gives the fable weight; its characters that give it soul; a combination of both that fill it with magic. All the magic of an Arabian night.