The Alchemist

By: Paulo Coelho

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Santiago, a young Andalusian boy, became a shepherd because he loves to travel. When he begins to have a recurring dream of being transported to the pyramids in Egypt, he wonders what it might mean. He visits a gypsy woman who tells him that he must journey to the pyramids to find his treasure. Later he meets an old man who call himself a king, and the man tells him the same thing. Thus begins Santiago's epic journey to find his Personal Legend. The adventure takes him to many places where he meets many people, including the Alchemist, who help him find the right path. No one knows exactly what the treasure is, and Santiago encounters many obstacles along the way that hinder his journey. But what started as a quest for worldly treasure eventually turns into a search for the kind of treasure that can only be found within.


The Alchemist is the story of a young shepherd boy who loves to travel. His name is Santiago, although I believe it's only used once in the opening line of the book and the rest of the time, he's merely referred to as the boy or the shepherd boy. He has a recurring dream about a child transporting him to the pyramids in Egypt, so he goes to an old Gypsy woman to get her to interpret his dream. She tells him he must travel to the pyramids and there he'll find his treasure. Not long after that, he encounters an old man who claims to be a king. The man speaks of discovering his Personal Legend and tells the boy how to find his treasure. And so begins the boy's journey which takes him from Spain into Northern Africa, where he spends a good deal of time. Along the way, things don't always go as expected. Sometimes, he's ready to end his journey before reaching his goal, but eventually he meets the alchemist who shows him the way. What he finds is both surprising and fulfilling.

The story is told in much the style of a fable or parable. It reminded me in a lot of ways of Aesop's tales, which I loved as a child. As such, there are a lot of lessons to be learned within its pages. It talks of how each one of us is on a unique journey in search of our Personal Legend and how we shouldn't give up before reaching the prize. There is also much to be learned from each experience along the way. It also speaks of how the universe (or God if you prefer) will help us if we let it and we must watch for the signs the universe sends us to know which path to choose. However, the story is such that what each reader takes away from it will probably depend to some degree on that individual and where they are upon their own life's journey. Ultimately, though, I think it's about self-fulfillment and becoming one with the world around us. For the boy what started as a search for worldly goods turned into a discovery of something much greater, something spiritual that can't be measured by gold or wealth.

The Alchemist may have gotten off to a rough start, having a hard time finding a foothold in the publishing world, but once it did, it seemed to take off like wildfire, becoming an internationally acclaimed bestseller almost overnight. Even though I tend to read in completely different genres than what this book falls into, I've been well aware of it's presence for many years. However, despite taking a look at it once or twice, I can't say that it piqued my interest enough to seek it out. If not for it being our latest book club read, I might not have. Because the book is so popular, it comes with a lot of hype attached to it. That being the case, I can't say that it entirely lived up to that hype for me. For some reason, it just didn't quite resonate with me in the same way that it seems to have with so many other readers. It's a nice little story that contains some very quotable passages and a good message. However some of that message is left open to interpretation. I've never been good at parsing hidden meanings in literature, so when a book has a greater meaning, I personally tend to prefer it to be a little more clear and straightforward rather than leaving it more nuanced. I also can't say that I was super-excited to get back to reading it when I had to put it down. But overall, The Alchemist was certainly a worthwhile read, particularly for anyone who is looking for spiritual guidance or for encouragement to follow their dreams.


Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho @ Wikipedia