Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Certain books have a way of finding the people who need the messages they contain at just the right moment. I found Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist on the shelves of a Salvation Army, an edition with an interview from the author at the back, a little after entering an undergraduate program in Literature & Writing Studies a few years back. It was a time that stirred as much excitement as trepidation. For while I loved the idea of studying literature and creative writing, since they filled me with endless delight, I was also quite conscious of the newspaper articles that told of students who wound up in minimum-wage jobs after college.

In such a rough economy, could I follow my passions and still have a bright future?

Coelho’s The Alchemist is a fairytale all about the many challenges and rewards of pursuing personal dreams or goals. The narrative follows an Andalusian boy named Santiago who, in the midst to tending to his flock of sheep, begins to have a recurrent dream of visiting the pyramids in Egypt. After his interactions with a fortune-teller, who tells him the dream reveals a treasure he must find at the pyramids, and a mysterious self-proclaimed king, who stresses everyone must follow their own destinies, Santiago embarks on a quest to seek out his treasure.

The above really sets up the entire narrative for The Alchemist, and as Santiago progresses on his journey, the morals and messages Coelho wants to convey come across with graceful ease. Most of them have to deal with pursuing aspirations that, to the individuals feel right, and adhere to what Coelho’s king character terms, “The Heart of the World.”

For instance, at one point Santiago meets a glass merchant who longed to make a religious pilgrimage. But due to financial circumstances, he opened up a shop and—in many ways—wound up stuck there because it seemed easier to do than fulfilling his dream. There is an extra thoughtful layer to his own hesitancy, which is interesting but I won’t reveal here, just because I do not want to spoil the subtle twist at this particular moment in the narrative. Needless to say, however, the glass merchant’s situation is one of the many variations of how people deal with the pursuit of their dreams.

Yet the strongest message of all—and one Santiago uncovers bit by bit—is if people pursue dreams or passions that fill them with joy, and they continue to do so even when challenges arise, they will eventually reach their goals. This uplifting message is one of my favorite aspects of The Alchemist, and among the reasons I return to read Coelho’s story again and again. The prose is gentle and easy to read (with additional thanks to the translator Alan R. Clarke), and the characters are both memorable and sympathetic.

The Alchemist is also a relatively quick read, being just a little over 150 pages (depending on the edition). During my first session with it, I was able to sit down and read through the entire narrative in a few hours. And I’m glad to report that afterwards I felt invigorated and encouraged in the pursuit of my own dreams.

Thank you, Coelho!

Have any of you had uplifting or interesting experiences with Coelho’s The Alchemist? Please feel free to share your experiences by commenting below. ^_^

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