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Book Review: "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a gem of a novel that has divided opinions ever since it was released back in 1988. This seems to be a book that people either love or hate, as a quick browse of Goodreads will reveal. Take this review for example: “I read a lot of books and I can safely say, this is the worst book.” Another one that I stumbled across: “Very simple book, poorly written, a piece of garbage.” I think reviews can be useful to get an overall feeling, but nothing beats personal experience and you are missing out on a lot if you blindly follow reviews.

I believe people who dislike The Alchemist are not allowing themselves to dream and hence miss the magic of this book. I would probably agree that this book is not great literature (whatever that means) although I didn’t find the writing as repulsive as they seem to imply!

The Alchemist is a fable that follows the adventures of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago. In the beginning of the book Santiago has a recurring dream that leads him to believe he will discover a treasure hidden in the Egyptian Pyramids.

Santiago therefore sets off on a journey to Egypt. His journey is long and meandering, with setbacks and years of pursuing smaller goals in order to achieve his dream of making it to the Pyramids. Santiago encounters many characters, each one with something to teach him. Coelho does a great job of bringing a sense of the magic of the Middle East to the reader. I do not want to give away the whole story, but I can guarantee that if you open your mind you will find this book very uplifting.

Coelho faced many challenges in his life, some of which may have inspired this novel. His father was an engineer, but Coelho did not want to follow such a traditional path for his own life. His desire to become a writer brought great dismay to his parents who had him committed to a mental institution! Trying to adhere to his family’s wishes, Coelho enrolled in law school but only lasted a year, dropping out to travel and live a hippie lifestyle. You can see many parallels between Coelho’s own journey and that of Santiago in The Alchemist.

This book came at the right time for me, whilst I was experiencing some personal struggles and grappling with what direction my life should take. It had such a profound impact on me that it still gives me goosebumps and transports me back to my nineteen-year-old self. This book felt like a hot water bottle on a cold night. It put a big smile on my face and gave me the courage to face London when I was on my own in a foreign and hectic city.

Some cynics might find the messages of this book too obvious or cheesy. But I am someone who loves cheesy and believes that there is no limit on how many times you can hear positive and empowering message. I love the basic truth of The Alchemist because I have found that we constantly overlook these truths when we are caught in the flow of everyday life. The book helps press the pause button and connect with a deeper level of understanding.

Anyone who knows me or spends just a little bit of time on this journal, will know that I love quotes. Here are five of my favourites from The Alchemist:

 “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

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

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

“Every blessing ignored becomes a curse.”

“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action.”

Rating: 5 out of 5

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