The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho
“Isn’t wine prohibited here?” the boy asked.
“It’s not what enters men’s mouths that’s evil,” said the alchemist.  “It’s what comes out of their mouths that is.”

When you look at some of the bestselling phenomenons from the past couple years, books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, it seems pretty obvious what the general population is interested in reading about: sex and intrigue.  Both of these series have sold over 100 million copies and inspired successful Hollywood remakes of the stories.  The Twilight films have grossed over $4 billion worldwide, and the hotly anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey film is set to be released in February 2015.

But despite their monumental success, it’s likely these books are one-hit-wonders, flash-in-the-pan successes.  They may be fun and interesting reads, but they don’t have the the substance and quality it takes to interest readers for another 10, 20, or even 30 years.  The Alchemist, however, is a different story.  Go to Target, and just a couple steps from your hot best-sellers you’ll find The Alchemist.  This single book has sold over 65 million copies and over 25 years after it was first published, it’s still going strong.

Written in the short, simple style of a parable or fable, it’s not your typical best-seller.  It’s not about love or mystery or adventure or battles.  There isn’t any good vs. evil or undervalued heroine.  The story is about Santiago, a Spanish shepherd boy, learning to follow his dream.  After visiting a gypsy woman to learn about his recurring dream in which he discovers treasure, Santiago decides to sell his flock and search for the treasure.  Along the way he meets strange travelers and encounters obstacles that tempt him to quit, but through perseverance he learns to speak the language of the world and read the signs that will eventually lead him to his “Personal Legend.”

Coelho’s story is somewhat cheesy and predictable.  For some readers, the book’s strong spiritualistic and mystic undertones make it come across as a fictionalized version of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, and for those who despise self-help books, The Alchemist is more frustrating than inspiring.  If you don’t catch my drift, a brief glimpse at the book’s Goodreads reviews should suffice.

But I found reading the book an entirely different and wholly satisfying experience.  Coelho writes with such honesty and sincerity that any clichés are forgiven.  The novel is packed with wisdom and insight, and the lessons Coelho teaches are as vast as the desert Santiago crosses.  In a book about pursuing your dreams, he also encourages readers to defy the status quo, live for more than money, and learn from life’s journey–all lessons that Coelho himself probably learned on his journey to becoming a writer.  As a 38-year-old who had  always wanted to write but let life get in the way, Coelho finally decided to stop what he was doing and pursue his longtime dream of writing.  Coelho relies heavily on his life experiences and knowledge when writing, and that makes his message genuine.  In The Alchemist he writes not only with his mind but also with his heart.


2 thoughts on “The Alchemist

  1. I read this over 20 years ago and loved it so much. I’d be interested to read it again and see what my thoughts are now that I am older (but not necessarily wiser!).

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