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The Alchemist: Book Review

One of my favorite songs has a line that says, “I recommend that you read The Alchemist…” and after listening to it for years I finally decide that I should listen. I drove to Barnes and Nobles and picked it out, excited to finally see if it lived up to the hype. Written by Paulo Coelho in 1988, that song wasn’t the first time I had heard about this book, my friends had recommended it to me before and I had seen some Tik Tok videos about how good it is. As a result, going into it I had high expectations. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.  

The Alchemist’s main character is a shepherd boy named Santiago. Santiago has a knack for understanding the sheep he herds, constantly observing their behavior and relating it to himself and his surroundings. It became obvious to me near the beginning of the book that he was very introspective and wise despite his description of being a young man. He has a reoccurring dream that he takes to a fortune teller, who tells him that the dream is directing him to a treasure at the Pyramids of Egypt. Doubtful of the fortune teller’s prognosis of his dream, he runs into a man who claims to be the King of Salem. This man introduces him to the idea of a “Personal Legend,” which I equated to someone’s destiny. Ultimately, this King convinces Santiago to sell his sheep and abandon his life as a shepherd and pursue his destiny at the Pyramids. The rest of the book follows this story as Santiago goes through the ups and downs of trying to achieve his goal.  

I really enjoy the straightforwardness of this book; it didn’t give long boring descriptions of the journey, but rather highlighted the important moments in Santiago’s travels and the philosophy going through his head. This philosophy was the highlight of the text; the point was not the ins and outs of Santiago’s journey to the pyramids, but rather his struggles between being comfortable and following his heart. The biggest idea in the book is the “Personal Legend.” This refers to the idea that everyone has a destiny but only a few follow it. However, the author really dives into why following one’s calling is so hard. Santiago struggles with doubt and fear of failure constantly throughout his journey. Reading along while he learns to tame these feelings and follow the omens that were pointing him towards his destiny was fascinating. Another theme throughout the book that I enjoyed was the personification of nature. Santiago spends a lot of his time simply observing the world and seeing how it “communicates” with itself. He calls this “the Soul of the World.” The way that I interpreted this idea was that all of nature, like the desert, birds, camels, and wind, talk to each other and work together to either help or harm humans. .” The Alchemist is a profoundly wise man that speaks the language of the world. I personally thought the book became much better once he was introduced just based off the sheer inspiration and thoughtfulness of his dialogue with Santiago.  

This book made me feel very inspired. It encourages you to follow your dreams, listen to your heart, and not settle for something out of fear of failure. I felt that I could apply a lot of the themes to my own life, and that it would help me in the long run, especially as I get set to graduate from Millsaps next year. It instilled scenes of travelling, climbing mountains with my family, sitting around campfires with friends, and left my heart feeling very happy. I would absolutely recommend reading this book, and with that, I will leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist:

  • “I’ve had this shop for thirty years. I know good crystal from bad, and everything else there is to know about crystal. I know its dimensions and how it behaves. If we serve tea in crystal, then the shop is going to expand. And then I’ll have to change my way of life.” 
  • “Because I don’t live in either my past or my future, I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesman fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living in right now.” 
  • “And that happiness could be found in a grain of sand from the desert, as the alchemist had said. Because a grain of sand is a moment of creation, and the universe has taken millions of years to create it.”