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Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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Recently a friend recommended I read a book he absolutely adored called The Alchemist, by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. This friend of mine is one of life's seekers of light and treasure, and as such he is a deeply spiritual person – much like Paulo Coelho himself, as is obvious when you read his book. I'm different. I believe you make your own treasure and light in life. However, Coelho and I seem to agree on one point – the journey is the most important part of the treasure.

The Alchemist is a fable about a shepherd boy (named Santiago but referred to as just “the boy” throughout the book) from the Andalusia area of Southern Spain. He lives a simple shepherd life, herding his sheep from place to place, finding them good food to eat and clean water to drink, and occasionally selling their fleece to fill his purse. He is simple and innocent and his needs are few, but he craves excitement and adventure, and he wants to travel and see the world. One day he meets an old god/king (the fabled King of Salem, Melchizedek) who promises to tell him where to find treasure, in exchange for one tenth of his flock of sheep. The boy, believing in omens, and that the omens are guiding him, gives the sheep to the old man.

After giving the old man his share of sheep, he is told that he should listen to the omens and follow what they tell him to do. He must take the two hour ferry trip from the tip of Andalusian Spain to Morocco, and from there he must journey through the Sahara desert to the Pyramids where he will find his treasure. He has many setbacks but eventually he reaches his destination, however it is his journey that is his real treasure. He learns better how to read the omens and discovers their importance; they are the voice of the Soul of the World speaking directly to him. He learns how to listen to his heart, to understand when it is lying and when it is telling the truth. He finds true love, an unending perfect love, the kind of love only found in fables.

Although the treasure is the primary aim of this journey, it is only while on the journey that the boy gathers the skills and wisdom he needs to reach his goal. It is also during this time that he meets the alchemist, but this isn't any ordinary alchemist. This is Super Alchemist. Not only can he transmute common metals into gold, and create The Philosopher's Stone, like all alchemists, but he has the wisdom of the ages, can talk directly to the Soul of the World and can even become the wind. He rides a shining white steed and carries a large scimitar, while the image conjured up is not dissimilar to Rudolph Valentino's Sheik. It is the alchemist who guides our shepherd friend through the metaphorical jungle of indecision before leading him, quiet literally, through the desert to find his treasure.

While The Alchemist is a beautiful and extraordinarily optimistic tale, it isn't very well written, but that's not to say the it isn't a good book. It's a strong story related to the reader by the omniscient narrator, told in a way reminiscent of fairy tales or spiritual texts like the Bible or Koran.

Coelho has a bad habit of writing prolix speeches for his characters. In trying to pass along his moral from each wise man who the boy encounters, the lessons are often delivered in a patronising way and can feel more like a soliloquy. Many times I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being beaten about the head with these homilies. The length of these pontifications can disrupt the flow of the story sometimes, to the point of stopping it altogether, and as a result the book can feel slightly long-winded and even faltering in places

These concerns aside, the book is both entertaining and inspirational. If you're a spiritual person you will undoubtedly feel Coelho's all-things-in-creation-linked-to-God moral very keenly. Maybe he will inspire you to follow your heart, listen to that still small voice when it tells you to follow your God's chosen path. You'll believe him when he tells you that if you are destined to do something, the Universe will conspire with the Soul of the World to help you achieve it. And just when things look their darkest, when you are furthest from your goal it will be presented to you, if you stay faithful to your path.

I found The Alchemist inspirational too, but not perhaps in the way the author intended. I didn't have a spiritual re-emergence, nor a swelling of faith; I didn't come to believe that I have a preordained path or journey, that I am destined to take, nor that the Universe would help me to successfully complete my journeys through life. I was inspired to begin writing my novel again, after a long hiatus. I realised that as long as you have an interesting and entertaining story to tell, and you tell it well, your technical ability to write that story isn't as important. It's the journey, after-all, that makes it all worthwhile.

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About A.L. Harper

  • zeenia zafar

    This is the most inspirational book about courage and hope

    • Sudeb Sarkar

      you didn’t need to add a selfie for that.

  • Shahab

    Good Review

  • Vanessa Salazar

    The journey does make the reward sweeter. I loved this book https://selimaandthemerfolk.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/book-review-the-alchemist/

  • manisha gautam




  • kt

    @rl – “The first love spark” makes sense because the boy had to make a decision either to go do what he was planning to do previously or to follow the new path that the King suggests.

  • Jackie_Evans

    I loved this book, it was an easy read and made me think a lot about my life and personal journey, my dreams wishes and aspirations. I think that this book allowed for the reader to interpret exactly what they needed to from it after all we are all at different stages in our lives. I loved this book. For me this book had many levels and allowed you to delve as far as one needed to as individuals. This book offers gifts to us and weather or not we get them depends on where we are in our own lives… definitely a read

  • pb

    i think this is an excellent work….his book is full of wisdom..i adore his writing…any way the review above does not describe the book in the way it is


    i jst only want to tell it exactly stike the bully eyes of reviw of alchemist

  • rl

    Its a ok- ok book…The author seems very confused to me. The first love spark of the boy didn’t seem to make any sense. Also the whole book is based on omens…Its definitely going to put off any readers who do not believe in them.It seems like a complex collection of a few good things. Its more like a fairy tale we tell our kids …only harder to understand.

  • Ashu

    U still did’t get what this book is telling..

  • ammara

    comment is nice but you have told only the story but main theme and important phylosophicallessons have skiped in this review

  • sj

    very accurate review. That’s how I felt too about the overstated book. It’s okay, though but I wonder why people are so crazy about it when there are lots of better books out there to be crazy about. I felt that the book was a romantic novel. Thanks for the nice review.