keep knocking on doors… the story behind The Alchemist

The Alchemist has been one of the most influential books in my life. I read it the first time years ago when I was traveling alone in Thailand. I’ll never forget sitting on the patio of my tiny beach hut, looking out at the ocean, reading The Alchemist for the first time. When I recommended it to an Australian friend who was on her own world tour, years later, her download onto her kindle came with an inspiring introduction by Paulo Coelho himself.

Coelho explains the story of grit, in getting the book out into the world. When The Alchemist was first published twenty-five years ago, in his native Brazil, no one noticed. how the alchemist wasn’t working at first, when it was first published 25 years ago. Book stores only sold a few copies, and by the end of the first year of it’s publication, the publisher dropped the project and cut him loose. He was forty-one and desperate…

“But I never lost faith in the book or ever waivered in my vision. Why? Because it was me in there. All of me, heart and soul. I was living my own metaphor. A man sets out on a journey, dreaming of a beautiful or magical place, in pursuit of some unknown treasure. At the end of his journey, the man realizes the treasure was with him the entire time. I was following my Personal Legend, and my treasure was my capacity to write. And I wanted to share this treasure with the world.”

He believed in his vision, and in the belief of The Alchemist: that when you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you. He started knocking on doors of other publishers, until he found one who would give The Alchemist a second chance. Slowly, it started to sell, gradually into the thousands.

Eight months later, an American visiting Brazil picked up a copy in a local bookstore, and liked it so much he wanted to translate it and find a publisher in the United States. HarperCollins agreed, and published it along with powerful fanfare: ads in the New York Times, and influential magazines, radio and television interviews. It still took a long time to gain momentum, selling mostly by word of mouth, as it had in Brazil. Then one day, Bill Clinton was photographed leaving the White House with a copy. Then Madonna raved about it to Vanity Fair. Suddenly people from all walks of life were talking about The Alchemist.

The Alchemist became a spontaneous- and organic- Phenomenon.

“People ask me if I knew The Alchemist would be such a huge success. The answer is no. I had no idea. How could I? When I sat down to write The Alchemist, all I knew is that I wanted to write about my soul. I wanted to write about my quest to find my treasure. I wanted to follow the omens, because I knew even then that the omens are the language of God.”

Coelho goes on to explain that we are all Santiago the shepherd boy in search of our treasures.

“The story of one person is the story of everyone, and one man’s quest is the quest of all humanity…. When I read about clashes around the world- political clashes, economic clashes, cultural clashes- 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 my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he’s never too far from me. It is always within my power to build a bridge. There is always a chance for reconciliation, a chance that one day he and I will sit around a table together and put an end to our history of clashes. And on this day, he will tell me his story and I will tell him mine.”

– Paulo Coehlo, 2014

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