TITLE OF BOOK: The Alchemist
AUTHOR: Paulo Coehlo
TRANSLATED BY: Alan Clarke
PUBLISHED BY: Harper One
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1988 (originally)
NUMBER OF PAGES: 100
BOOK REVIEWER: Mof’Oluwawo O MojolaOluwa
“When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it”
The Alchemist is a story about Santiago, a young shepherd on a quest to see the world, which becomes a quest to realize his personal legend and discover the treasure of his dreams. We follow him from his beginnings as a dreamy shepherd boy in his mundane dailies of feeding sheep, reading books and drinking wine; with no other desire than to reunite with his love interest- the merchant’s daughter whom he’d met on one of his many travels with sheep. Unknown to him, and us-of course- a recurrent dream of treasure in faraway lands would hijack his daily routine transforming him into a treasure seeker, one in pursuit of his personal legend.
“It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…”
Here’s a profound narrative with deep insights. Our hero goes from shepherd to sales boy to caravan traveler to oasis dweller becoming different things to different people at different times, a crystal merchant’s good luck charm, an Englishman’s companion, Fatima’s beloved, the oasis’s forewarner, Alchemist’s disciple… all in the quest to realize his personal legend. If all’s well that ends well, then ‘The Alchemist’ is a beautifully written comedy.
‘The Alchemist’ is a didactic prose written in two parts, with a prologue and an epilogue. Hundred pages of moral lessons, wit and humour in which Coelho mirrors human existence and interdependence. He does not stop there but goes further to examine our interactions with the universe as well as the part both parties play in achieving that which was pre-written by the Creator.
”…the language that everyone in earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity. More ancient than the desert… It was the pure Language of the World.”
‘The Alchemist’ speaks of omens and dreams, predestination, fate, destiny, alchemy, divination, the Urim and Thummim, Melchizedek, Maktub, the Language of the World, the soul of the universe and one’s Personal Legend. This tale is an allegory for everyone in search of meaning and purpose in life, for those at a loss as to what they were born to do or become, for everyone on a journey to self realization and indeed for every human who wants more out of life than they currently have. It is a guide to tenacity of purpose and resolution of heart, to courage, confidence and risk taking. A challenge to be more, to want more, to do more. To dare all odds and ford all rivers, to cross bridges of complacence, and burn them never to look back. To move on to unknown mountains and unseen plains of fulfillment and breakthroughs, to achieve their Personal Legends.
Well spiced with parables, folklores, proverbs, sayings and anecdotes, the easy flow of thoughts and connectedness of events makes it an all together easy read. The everyday man will certainly find himself in this tale expressed in a character or the other. Which makes it all the more relatable and immersive an account. The author does not however forget to weave in some fantastic twists to the story to remind us it is still fiction after all.
“You must understand that love never keeps a man from achieving his personal legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World.”
The journey to self realization is not a smooth one. It is rather attended by distractions, disappointments, failures and a host of vicissitudes. It is indeed an apt description of quitters never winning and winners never quitting. A charge to steadfastness and clarity of purpose, to stretching beyond the ordinary, maximizing one’s innate resources and keeping at a goal until it is achieved. It is this kind of tenacity that makes Santiago forfeit all he has in pursuit of that he hopes to have. At the risk of death, being swindled, disillusionment and a fruitless effort, he crosses into another continent, learns another trade and language, makes new friends and companions… Will he find what he’s looking for? Will it be worth it in the end? Or will it only be a pointless merry-go-round; a fruitless traverse? Only ‘The Alchemist’ can tell us.
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children…”
Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Like Santiago, he has followed a dream in a quest for fulfillment. After deciding that law school was not for him in 1970, he traveled around the world and returned after two years to become a popular songwriter. In 1988, he published The Alchemist, a novel which though had not done so well initially, went on to launch him as an international bestselling author. An award winning author and speaker for humanitarian causes, he is a United Nations Messenger of Peace.