If you’re a lover of books then you’ve probably read Paulo Coelho’s bestselling novel, The Alchemist. If you haven’t read it however, then you’ve definitely at least heard of it, and you may find yourself wondering if it’s worth the all the hype; given that it has sold 65 million copies in 80 different languages and holds the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by any author. That feat alone should give an impression of the finesse with which it has been written and, supplemented by the abundance of quotable motivational phrases scattered throughout it’s pages, insight into why it’s a favorite book of people all around the globe. Before we dive into the contents of the book, let’s take a look into the life of the Paulo Coelho himself.
Who is He?
Surprisingly enough, Coelho had a rather troubled childhood, as, from the age of 17, he had been admitted into a mental asylum three times and dropped out of law school in the 1960s. Later, in 1974, he was arrested by Brazilian Military Government for subversive activities. Coelho was 38 years old when he finally settled down and wrote his first book, The Pilgrimage, which is based on a spiritual awakening he experienced in Spain. His bestselling novel, The Alchemist was written afterwards, and he continues to publish novels every few years.
From the beginning of the novel, it is made clear through the ponderous thoughts of the protagonist, Santiago, that he is a thinker; as is the occupational hazard of being a shepherd in Spain during the 1900s. Santiago’s love for traveling causes him to cross path with an old man who sets him on a journey to reach the Great Pyramids of Egypt, and on the way learn a good many lessons about destiny, love and the way of the world. Santiago experiences a setback when he reaches Africa, only to be robbed of all his money, now with no way of crossing the desert to reach the pyramids. While stranded, he finds that despite not being able to speak the language of the people, he still manages to communicate with a merchant- but without using words. He calls this the Language of the Universe and suspects that, if one succeeds in leaving behind his worldly problems and become a little more in tune with the world, that he can begin to understand and communicate with everything in the world from people to plants to minerals. Throughout his journey, Santiago is taught time and time again that everything in the world is on the side of those who are determined to fulfill their destinies, and that the world does so through signs, or omens. He learns to trust these omens when making decisions in life, and that they will lead to an optimal outcome so long as he still believes and is trying to achieve his dream. In fact, the book makes it clear that the world will only achieve perfection when everyone in it begins the process of following the omens and tries to achieve their destinies. King of Salem, who acts as Santiago’s spiritual guide, himself says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
While on his journey to achieve his destiny, Santiago is fortunate enough to find love in the form of a desert girl named Fatima. He falls in love with her as soon as he lays eyes on her, and since the two of them are so in tuned with the soul of the universe, they are able to understand each other immediately. Originally, he was tempted to abandon his spiritual journey in the hopes of making a life with her, but eventually realized that if he did not consider the omens and fulfill his destiny, he would spend the rest of his life in regret. Fatima fully supports his decision to continue his journey and claims that it is her personal legend to look out into the desert and wait for it to return him to her. The lesson that can be learned from this is an important one: that true love will not encumber a person in achieving their dreams, but rather encourage and find happiness in them doing so.
Overall, the book prompts its readers to, like Santiago, go out of their way to achieve their purpose in life, and reminds them that the universe will go out of its way to help rather than hinder them in this endeavor. That being said, this book has become something of a favorite of mine. The main idea has so much potential to be cheesy, but Paulo Coelho manages to avoid that by pacing the story wonderfully, so that one has the time to reflect on and grasp the revelations going on in Santiago’s mind. Santiago’s development from a curious yet stubborn boy, into a man that can communicate with the spirit of the world itself can be seen gradually as the book progresses and leaves the reader feeling as if they too, have grown mentally alongside our protagonist. The matters which Coelho broaches, such as omens and the idea that the soul of the world is so easily available to us if we try to understand the thing around us, evokes a feeling of positivity and faith in the world. Considering the current affairs of the world, a positive outlook is certainly needed.
In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho manages to take the cliched saying “Follow your dreams” and phrase it in a way that sounds new to the ears of the readers. The book repeatedly discusses Destiny, and states that every person on Earth was born with a purpose in life, a dream, and that it is his destiny to fulfil his or her dreams, and that he will not feel satisfied until he does. This is a lesson that can be applied by people of all ages, as it is never too late to follow one’s dreams.