Book Critique - The Alchemist

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A book that gives one to look within themselves as well as their own goals; understand their true self, while learning the world around that has been made by an unseen hand; and giving the reader his or her own Personal Legend. You want to find yours, pick this book to find a way.

The Alchemist is a 1988 novel by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, originally published in Portuguese and later translated internationally into various languages. The plot follows a young shepherd who is on his journey to the Pyramids of Egypt in search of a treasure that he keeps seeing in his dreams.

A very dear friend of mine gifted me for Christmas in 2017. I had read this book a few months thereafter, but couldn't put my pen to paper (in this case typing on my keyboard into the computer) to write a review about it. There is so much in it, and it means different for every person, depends on what the reader is seeking from it. 

Again this is another kind of fiction I don't normally read. However, this was on my list to read for a while. So well, finally I penned the review and here you go.

An Andalusian shepherd boy, Santiago has a recurring dream about treasure at Egyptian Pyramids. Thinking the dreams to be foretelling of some distant future, or a message from god or his messenger, Santiago, on advice of a Romani fortune teller, sets on his journey to the Egyptian Pyramids to find this treasure. On his way, he meets various strangers, some who guide him towards his destination, while others provide a different perspective; sees many places; and even dreams of what he wants to do once he finds the treasure. And the author takes the readers on this existential journey of Santiago, in turn creating a journey of its own for each reader who reads this.

The book is split into parts - Part One gives the reader the base of the plot, the dream and start of journey of Santiago; Part Two that helps Santiago achieve his Personal Legend. However, through all the book this one statement struck me the most - "When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream." I do think that sometimes that's what I feel really happens, for better or for worse. 

The novel is an allegorical one with the author Paulo using the shepherd to spread his real meaning behind the treasure. Ironic that, as the author mentioned in his foreword in this 25th anniversary edition of the book, he actually lived the metaphor that he was using in the book. He had difficulties getting the book to publish and sell it, yet he stuck on his path and eventually found his personal treasure - writing a book that he could share with the world.

Despite the book written 25 years ago, it still means the same to everyone who reads it, everyone who is in quest of their own treasure, anyone who is on their own journey to find a purpose and meaning to their life, and everyone who reads it is touched spiritually and emotionally by what the author puts forth from this shepherd's point of view. 

Through Santiago's journey, author Paulo shows the readers a language that everyone in this world could understand; no matter how many detours one encounters they still make to the path of their goal; and sometimes your Personal Legend is where you are, while for others it's a journey across deserts and lands.

This book was given to me at a time when I was literally battling for my life. And for me, personally, it did provide me with my own Personal Legend - something that I came to realize of what I want my life to be. Now that I came out of the battle swinging sixes and fours, I understand my Personal Legend. My next step is to follow through it, no matter where it takes me.

Paulo Coelho mastered the way to portray the existential journey of a shepherd boy to make it look like every reader's own journey, one's own need to find the treasure and one's own goal to achieve their Personal Legend. No wonder his book has been adapted into film and theater, including a theatrical adaptation that was staged for the first time in India.

He fills in elements of comedy, fairy tale and drama in his story that appeals to one set of readers, while the mystery and adventure appeals to another set of readers. Hidden deep within is a wealth of wisdom in Coelho's words, pushing the readers to their own destinies. 

Even after a quarter of a century, the book still makes sense in this ultra-modern technology filled world. A definite pick for anyone who want to walk through Santiago's path and find their own.


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