The Alchemist, written by Paulo Coelho, was first published in 1988. It is an allegorical, fictional novel, written in simple and effective language. The intent of the book is not to challenge the reader with complex language and grammar, but to challenge the reader on a personal and philosophical level. It was originally written in Portuguese, and I first read it in Portuguese, before proceeding to read the English version. I feel that although the English version is great, there is something to be said for “lost in translation,” and I really enjoyed reading the book in its original language as well. It is a short read, but inspiring in many ways and full of optimism.
This story is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who leaves all he’s ever had to travel from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.
As the story progresses and Santiago comes closer to the treasure, he becomes more focused on his growing understanding of the mystical force that imbues everything, called the Soul of the World. The time he spends crossing the desert on his way to the pyramids teaches him to pay attention to the world around him and to see all of creation in his surroundings, even in a single grain of sand. The knowledge he gains from the desert allows him to recognize nature as a unified whole. His greatest spiritual advancement, however, comes after he finally finds the alchemist, who helps him to understand himself and to read the omens in his environment. Santiago ultimately learns to communicate with the wind and the sun and the Hand That Wrote All, a force evidently synonymous with God or Allah.
This book, through the symbolic narration of an ordinary boy with an extra-ordinary power to believe, conveys the power of the mind, faith, hope, and positivity. The book’s main theme and philosophy is about finding one’s destiny, as the old king tells Santiago, “…Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth,” and “When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true”. This powerful and thought provoking statement refers to the idea that a person’s purpose in life centers around fulfilling one’s desires and that we should not be off-put by the many obstacles throughout our path. One will achieve what he truly wants to, provided he has the courage to believe and follow through with fire and passion.
Santiago’s journey is comparable to the journey of a specific breed of business person that is very familiar to all of us; leaving all his possessions and stability behind in hopes of embarking on a fulfilling adventure, he is not far different from many entrepreneurs. He encountered many challenges and inspirations along the way, which he utilized as opportunities for learning and improvement. In fact, at the beginning of his journey, he got to a town and found a glass shop at the top of the hill. In need of money, he transformed the shop into a successful business, and moved on to his next venture.
We are all caught up in finding a path to achieve our dreams, and have fears of failing to find it. Read this book with little expectations and an open mind, for it is not a guidebook to achieving enlightenment or achieving your dreams. It is a light, enjoyable read that will leave you pondering how you are traversing through your paths.