Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

“The Alchemist” has the power of vocabulary that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I will from this day forth forever be living my Personal Legend. Perceived truths of goodness and love will always come from the Soul of the World. Being able to communicate with individuals or animals or nature without the use of spoken word will always be speaking with the Language of the World. So poetic! It is a very influential book, indeed, that can impart such things unto its reader and any book that can do so deserves to be read by everyone.

The story revolves around a young shepherd boy named Santiago, but throughout just called the boy, who has a recurring dream. This dream informs him that he should go to the Pyramids in Egypt to find a great treasure. While extremely content with his shepherd life, the boy is disturbed by the dream enough that he follows it and meets a series of figures along the way who encourage him to do so. Thus begins the boy’s Personal Legend.

The ideas in this book are romantic and seductive. How could it not be when it’s called following your Personal Legend? The boy travels from place to place, sometimes finding things easy, sometimes finding thing difficult and meets all of these interesting people, some following their Personal Legend, some not. It’s basically my dream life. Where the book shines, though, is in its ideas about love. There aren’t any mind-blowing pronouncements or earth-shattering revelations about love, just more of a matter-of-factly but beautifully stated and mentally appealing realities about love. I didn’t come out of the book thinking “Wow, now that’s love!”, but more of “Oh, of course that’s love! Why would it be any other way?”. I found it immensely satisfying.

The ending, I will admit, is a bit trite for my tastes. Not nearly as trite as I was fearing, fortunately, but there are a variety of other endings that I would have been quite happy with. It should also be said that the ability to follow your Personal Legend comes from a place of extreme privilege. One of the themes of the book is that the whole universe conspires to help you on your Personal Legend if you are willing to follow it. It is true that the boy suffers hardships, but his starting point was as a pretty successful shepherd. There is not any acknowledgement of this in the book. Those who are not following their Personal Legend are portrayed as scared or lazy, not necessarily in a bad way, mind you, just kind of now worthy. It’s not quite a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” message, but it teeters dangerously close to it.

“The Alchemist” is a book very much worth reading. It is beautiful and won’t take much of your time to boot. It is eminently quotable and poetically delicious. I shall leave you with a quote from the book that I think sums up the wonderful qualities of “The Alchemist” nicely: “Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”