Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is a simple fable about following your dreams. Along the lines of The Secret, it rests on the theory that everything in the universe (“the soul of the world”) aligns to get you what you want even when it seems that things may not be going your way. I picked up The Alchemist from a friend’s bookshelf and read it in a couple hours. The language is surprisingly simple, although very clean and beautifully succinct, and has an understated way of drawing you in until you are so engrossed in the story of the life of an Andalusian shepherd boy that you’re halfway done with the book before you can blink. That’s the power of simple but good writing for you.

The Alchemist is full of spiritual and practical messages, a key one of which is that “the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” In addition to tackling self-doubt and fear, it also promotes self-empowerment, courage, not giving up, and following one’s dreams even when things get rough. But don’t get me wrong – it’s not a book that over-preaches. Written as a fable, The Alchemist delivers its philosophical messages via the tale of a young shepherd boy who gives everything up everything he knows to follow a dream he’s had about buried treasure in Egypt. Despite setback after setback and an expected fear of the unknown, the young boy learns to read the “soul of the world,” how to trust in its signs, listen to his heart, and does indeed find his treasure. Whether this treasure is truly at the end or along its journey is likely a point to be disputed, as during his tumultuous journey, he makes friends, meets the woman of his dreams, changes the lives of others, and meets an alchemist who teaches him the wisdom of the world. This part of the treasure is more metaphysical as opposed to the material riches the boy finds at the end of the book.

The beauty of this tale lies in its simplicity. There is no underlying heavy-handed message. Instead, the unique combination of mysticism with its fairy-tale-like approach delivers the author’s inspirational and philosophical messages in simple but meaningful allegory.┬áIn the end, the boy learns that life is in the journey and not in the destination, and what he has gained in loss or adversity along the way makes him better for it. A strong believer of following your dreams, considering I am on a chaotic path of pursuing my own, I would rate The Alchemist four and a half out of five stars, if only for the inspiration, the passion, and the drive to continue to seek what I want out of life. Great little book with many interesting layers, The Alchemist will not disappoint.

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