For this week’s book, I chose The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – a book I’ve been wanting to read for, I kid you not, about ten years! I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner, it was just one of those books I’ve had in the back of my head and so when my colleague offered to lend it to me, I finally went for it.
The Alchemist – by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is one of those books that I’m sure would divide opinion – on surface level, you could just read it as a fable – Santiago, a Spanish shepherd one day meets a king who convinces him to sell his flock of sheep and embark on a journey across Africa, to find treasure buried by the pyramids – and so he embarks on such a journey, that takes him across the desert in pursuit of gold. But Coelho has a spiritual message and the book is loaded with a lexicon of omens and destiny and the soul of the world. I’m sure lots of people would take something different from it – I’ve seen reviews by people claiming that the book changed their life and others who were just completely turned off by the spirituality of it all.
Personally, I had quite a mixed view of it. I could never say that it’s a book to change my life and nor does it really change the way I look at the world… but rather it affirms a few things I personally believe:
– That anyone can achieve great things with determination. Most striking in the book is that the boy never gives up on his quest, no matter how many setbacks. He believes that his journey is his destiny and I’m not saying that I believe we all have a destiny, because personally I think that we can do anything we want to if we put our minds to it, but you can’t fault his perseverance pays off.
– That we are all connected to nature and we should live in harmony with nature. There is a scene in the book where the boy transforms himself into the wind, by being so in tune with his surroundings that he is able to talk to the desert, and then the wind, and the sky, until they grant him the ability to be as the wind. Throughout the book, he learns the language of the world – a way to communicate with all elements of life, not just through conversation, but through the unspoken cues that are all around us. Maybe I am a bit of a hippy, but I like that idea. We live in a very artificial world, but we ourselves are a part of nature and so it does us good to engage with that part of our existence, rather than just hide away in concrete jungles, staring at a plastic screen all day!!
– That we can learn something from anybody. I was really struck by the fact that every character in the book had quite a profound effect on the boy. He was able to learn something from everybody he met along his journey – the King who set him on his journey, the shop owner who took him in when he’d lost everything, the Englishman in pursuit of the Alchemist and of course, the Alchemist himself. Was it that they all had something to teach or was it that the boy had the capacity and hunger to learn?
– That the mundane can be transformed into something beautiful. Alchemists are famous for being able to transform lead into gold – is that actually possible? Unlikely. But one’s persons rubbish can be another’s treasure, it just depends on how you look at it! I was also struck the other day, that we ourselves can perform little tricks with the right intention. It came to me in yoga class, when the teacher instructed us to prolong our exhale – this uneven breath automatically calms the nervous system and sends your heart rate down. Breathing is something we do all the time without even noticing, but just a small shift in our attention can change things within our bodies – a mini miracle if you like!
So, that was my reading of The Alchemist – I’d be interested to know what others thought of it. I suppose it is one of those books that either inspires a load of random thoughts or just leaves you baffled!
To match the journey that Santiago took, from his home in Spain, to Morocco and then across the desert to Egypt, I decided to cook something that combined Spanish and North African influences. My options really were endless, but I opted for something simple and delicious!
Moroccan Eggs – I used the recipe from Casa Moro but adapted it slightly (below is my version)
A bunch of spring onions
3 cloves garlic
Tin of plum tomatoes
Fennel seeds (approx 1tsp)
Chilli flakes (to taste depending on how much spice you like)
Cumin seeds (approx 1tsp)
2 large eggs
Parsley to serve
Chop the spring onions and garlic and then fry in some olive oil with the fennel seeds and the cumin seeds until soft and lightly coloured.
Add the tomatoes and chilli flakes and then simmer for around 10 mins until the tomatoes thicken.You may choose to add a pinch of sugar to sweeten the sauce if you like – just a pinch though don’t go overboard!
Crack your eggs on top of the mixture, then use a fork to thin them out a little. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes until they are cooked and then serve with a little chopped parsley on top.
I ate mine with a pitta bread for brunch…. very tasty and simple to make.