The Alchemist, Book Review: Paulo Coelho’s beguiling novel

Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist has beguiling depth and universal themes that will entrance readers of all ages and faiths. This book is a modern classic. Read our full review.

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The Alchemist Book Review - Paulo Coelho - Book cover, a golden sun motif on orange backgroundThe Alchemist Book Review

The Alchemist (O Alquimista) is a novel by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho which was first published in 1988. Originally written in Portuguese, it has become an international bestseller (30 million + copies sold) and translated into some 70 languages.

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

This novel is a perfect example of the saying ‘good things come in small packages’. The simple little tale conveys a very powerful and inspirational message, and so it is unsurprising it is considered a modern classic.

Alchemy, derived from the Arabic word al-kimia, is both a philosophy and an ancient practice focused on the attempt to change base metals into gold, investigating the preparation of the “elixir of longevity”, and achieving ultimate wisdom, involving the improvement of the alchemist as well as the making of several substances described as possessing unusual properties. (Wikipedia)

Characters and story outline

The protagonist in this magical fable is a young shepherd of simple means named Santiago. He crosses paths with a King who teaches the young boy the value of reading the signs the world presents us, even in our dreams.

The boy’s subsequent search for hidden treasure takes him across country borders and brings him into contact with both the deceitful and most noble of humanity. He learns the value of persistence and hard work, the value of humility and the value of honour and bravery. Particularly touching is Santiago’s interaction with a crystal merchant who was hesitant to follow his dreams for fear of succeeding. The young boy’s courage in seizing opportunities and overcoming adversity inspired all those he came into contact with.

The Alchemist Book Review, Quote - "It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."
The Alchemist Book Quote - "The secret of life though is to fall seven times and to get up eight times."

Literary themes

Santiago’s search for hidden treasure in The Alchemist is a metaphor for life.

Coelho introduces the concept of one’s Personal Legend, or destiny. Appealingly though, this destiny is not presented as something that will simply fall into one’s lap, but something one needs to strive for.

Too often in this inspirational genre readers are given the impression that if we simply wish for something long enough with the purest of intentions, then that wish will come into being. This novel reminds us that

  1. Anything worth having must be worked for and that one does not gain in life without first risking loss, and
  2. Treasures can come in the form of experiences, rather than material objects.

Through this allegorical fable, Coelho asserts that life is a journey with an infinite series of decision points. And that the world, if one observes it carefully enough, provides all the information needed to choose the right paths in order to fulfil our dreams.

Although a simple and almost childlike story on one level, The Alchemist has a disarming and beguiling depth to it that will entrance readers of all ages. Its themes are universal and can and should be embraced by people of all races, creeds and religions.

At its core, this is a story about doing what is right and noble, and being rewarded for it. The Alchemist is a must-read.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

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Genre: Literature, Classic, Mystery, Fantasy, Translation

Related Reading:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery / A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle / Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari / The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey / Tales by Trees Series – The Carpenter

The Alchemist Plot Summary

Source: CourseHero.

About the Author, Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho de Souza (1947 – ) is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist and the recipient of numerous international awards. He is best known for his widely translated novel The Alchemist. He has been a prolific author with more than 24 books published. Check out Paul Coelho‘s website and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

In this interview, Paulo Coelho discusses his thoughts on Luck, Coincidence, and Faith:

Source: HarperOne

More Memorable Quotes from The Alchemist

On love:

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

On persistence and commitment:

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

On the value of every of every life:

“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”

On appreciating the simple things:

“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”