Book Reviews

Book Review: The Alchemist


Paulo Coelho is well known as an inspirational writer, and The Alchemist was the book that made him a household name outside his native Brazil. It has been translated into 80 languages and has inspired readers across the world to pursue their dreams.

The Alchemist is the story of Santiago, a shepherd from Andalusia in Spain and the marvellous journey he goes on. He dreams of a treasure buried near the pyramids in Egypt and sets out to find it, embarking on what is called in the book ‘his Personal Legend’. The Personal Legend is what you have always wanted to do or be in your heart of hearts, and Santiago’s is to find this treasure. He has lots of adventures on the way and meets various travelling companions, a woman he falls in love with and an alchemist who explains the nature of Personal Legends to him: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

While it is a fantastical story about a shepherd boy travelling round the world and seeking treasures, it is also an allegory, a story that teaches the reader a lesson. Santiago stands in for the reader and his quest to discover treasure is a metaphor for each of us seeking out the thing we want to do more than anything else. He is distracted by things that are exciting along the way, and also by getting stuck in a day-to-day job rather than seeking out his destiny. He constantly battles with his fear of trying something new, because the familiar is comfortable and there is no risk involved. Sound familiar?pyramids

However, when he becomes stuck, he always finds something to jolt him out of his rut and he continues on his quest. One of the resounding lessons of The Alchemist is that the key to achieving your dreams is never to give up: “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” When Santiago eventually reaches the pyramids, he realises that it was the journey rather than the destination that mattered, and that he discovered his Personal Legend in the process of reaching his goal. Like the alchemist character, this book aims to tell a fairy tale that helps the reader move out of their current situation and encourages them to follow their Personal Legend, but also to understand that sometimes it isn’t what we expect it to be.

If you want an adventurous story with a powerful message, try The Alchemist (BOOK ZONE 823.91) and see if you can discover your own Personal Legend!

If you liked The Alchemist

Try another of Paulo Coelho’s allegorical stories, The Devil and Miss Prym (BOOK ZONE 823.91), which asks the question, “Is killing ever justified?”

Read another famous inspiring novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (BOOK ZONE 823.91) in which the author describes a motorcycle trip with his son across the American mid-west. They have philosophical conversations about their values and their lives along with an exploration of Zen concepts.

Watch Stranger Than Fiction, one of the most entertaining thought experiments ever (DVD LOBBY 791.43). Will Ferrell plays an IRS auditor who starts hearing his own life narrated in his head. He discovers that he is the protagonist of a tragic novel and starts living with a passion, as he realises how narrow-minded he has become.


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