I’ve been meaning to read The Alchemist for a while now, even since before I became a full-on reader and blogger. I put it on my Christmas wishlist this year, and my sister bought a copy for me since it’s one of her favorite books. And, with the new year right around the corner, I decided that The Alchemist should be my first read of 2017. It’s a very short and manageable book, and I was able to finish it in one day.
About The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Genre: Classic, Philosophy, Fantasy, Spirituality, Adventure, Fiction
Published: May 1st, 1993 by HarperCollins
Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.
About: Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho de Souza (/ˈkwɛljuː/, /kuˈɛl–/, /–joʊ/, Portuguese: [ˈpawlu kuˈeʎu]; born August 24, 1947) is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist. He is the recipient of numerous international awards, amongst them the Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum. His novel The Alchemist has been translated into 81 languages. According to The Washington Post, Paulo Coelho has sold an estimated 350 million books and is the all-time bestselling Portuguese-language author. (source: Wikipedia)
My Review for The Alchemist
First of all, it struck me as bizarre that his Personal Legend was something so materialistic as finding a trunk of treasure. The only times the boy ever had need of money was to fund his travels towards his Personal Legend (finding a trunk of treasure). He was robbed on three separate occasions throughout this novel, and yet he was only upset by the fact that it meant his journey was delayed until he found more money. The boy spends a while working with a crystal seller in order to save up the money he was earning while working so he could go back home and buy a flock of sheep twice as large as the one he had sold originally to fund his travels. Of course, he changes his mind somewhere along the way.
Now, I understand that the idea of the boy going back to the life he was living would be the opposite of living out his Personal Legend. Consequently, there are multiple characters in this story that tell the boy this is the wrong choice. The crystal seller is the example of someone who has their own Personal Legend, but chooses not to live it out and instead spends their life dreaming about it. But, this crystal seller seemed happy to do so. The alchemist himself tells the boy that if he does not seek out his Personal Legend, he will have one year of happiness and then his world will crumble around him because he will always wonder about his Personal Legend but it will be too late to go after it.
Summary of thoughts:
Here are my basic thoughts on this story: the boy never seemed materialistic. He changed his previously sheltered life, having gone to school to learn to become a religious figure, and decided he wanted to travel and became a shepherd. From the onset, he describes how much he has learned from the sheep, and how he loved knowing everything about them. He loved sleeping under an open sky, and seeing new places, constantly moving, and even had the luxury of reading frequently. This is a boy who abandoned the material safety of a home, a family to care for him, and even his religion, in order to travel and be free. This does not strike me as a person whose Personal Legend in life is to find a trunk of treasure, then settle down with a girl in an oasis in the Sahara desert.
There are several implications in this.
The message of the book is arguably “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. Several people made this argument in their reviews (both negative and positive), but I disagree. The book doesn’t agree with this. Time and time again, the main character hears that he must live out his Personal Legend. There is no emphasis on the journey there, there is emphasis only on the destination. The alchemist said that his Personal Legend was to create the philosopher’s stone. However, he does not go into any detail about his journey to get there, just his destination.
If the Personal Legend doesn’t match the boy’s personality or values, there could be an element of “fate” here. It does not matter that the boy values a free, non-materialistic life under the stars with his sheep. It is his fate/purpose/destiny to end up with the treasure.
Some people view this book with a religious lens. A person’s Personal Legend could have a religious basis, setting, or purpose. Some people could realize their “personal legend” and recognize that their God – whomever they worship – desires them to do “____”. Some believe that their purpose is to serve their religion, regardless of what their own wants or desires are. I think that this might be a popular way for readers to interpret this book. Working towards a goal which challenges them, the uplifting spiritual messages in this book might help them carry on. As I am not a specifically religious person, this book did not have that effect on me. I am uncomfortable with the idea of a “fate”, and therefore this idea does not work well with me.
There were a number of characters in this book that I did not expect to play the roles they played. For one, the king deserved more regard and importance. He told the boy important things about his future, and pushed him to begin his journey towards his Personal Legend. Also, he gave him tools to help him on his way. Arguably, the king helped the boy more than the alchemist did – at least the way I read it, and I have trouble understanding why the title is The Alchemist – unless the author wants to refer to the boy as an/the alchemist for some reason. The crystal shop owner and the Englishman were two others I didn’t expect in the book. They all served their purposes to highlight or contrast people on varying levels of their quests for their Personal Legends. And, as I mentioned before, I felt as though the alchemist himself played a rather small role in the story. He helped the boy achieve the supernatural, and gave him the last push towards completing his Personal Legend. However, I’m not sure I understand why the book is his namesake (unless, of course, it isn’t).
Very quick, one of my favorite things about this book. The Alchemist is a light read, though it has deeper and thought-provoking messages throughout.
Overall, I liked this book, but I don’t think that it deserves the hype it has received. I give this book 2.5/5 stars. I enjoyed it, but its message did not resonate with me and I disagree with many aspects of the novel.
Have you read The Alchemist? Did you enjoy this book? Did the book have any profound meaning or messages to you? Do you agree or disagree with the points I made in this post? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
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