Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review of "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

The book tells the story of Santiago, a Spanish shepherd who has a recurring dream about finding a treasure near the Pyramids of Egypt. Advised by a gypsy woman to seek the treasure, Santiago sells his sheep and takes off. Along the way he meets several people who have a profound effect on his life. The first, who calls himself 'the King of Salem', advises the boy to pursue his 'personal legend' (deepest desire). The King tells Santiago that when a person undertakes such a quest the universe conspires to assist him/her. This notion reminded me of the 2006 book 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne, which suggests that when a person really wants something the universe gives it to them - an idea that's hard to believe in either book.

In any case, Santiago pursues his dream, but it's not easy or straightforward. He travels to Africa to start his journey across the desert to Egypt and is promptly robbed of all his money. Santiago finds work with a crystal merchant, where he does a superb job, but he realizes the merchant didn't fulfill his own personal legend - and the shepherd sets off for Egypt once more. Santiago joins a caravan to cross the desert, where he eventually meets an alchemist who imbues the boy with his own philosophy of life and encourages Santiago to continue his journey.

During all this Santiago falls in love with a girl, has several run-ins with tribal chiefs, and gets robbed a couple more times. In some ways the story brought to mind a fairy tale with supernatural elements since Santiago has conversations with the wind and sun - who assist him in a time of trouble. There are some spiritual elements in the story and a lot of talk about love being the most important thing in the world - a theme which also occurs in other Coelho books.

Santiago is never diverted from his quest and eventually discovers his treasure and presumably lives happily ever after. This book didn't really resonate with me as I don't seem to share Coelho's philosophy but I thought it was an okay story.

Rating: 3 stars

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