Book Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a cleverly written story that fuses philosophy and adventure. The novel features a young shepherd boy named Santiago from Andalusia, a region in Southern Spain, whose one wish is to travel. After having recurring dreams of visiting the Egyptian pyramids, he consults a mystic, who tells him he is going to find treasure there. Despite his skepticism, Santiago continues to be faced with what may seem like odd coincidences. Ultimately, he is taken on a journey to Northern Africa, in search of what is referred to as his “personal legend.”

Santiago displays immense growth, even as the novel is on the shorter side. His character arc is part of what makes the story so engaging. In the beginning, he is opposed to things that do not make sense to him, but he becomes extremely powerful once he recognizes that what is true will always prevail, and he is the only real barrier between himself and conquering his true potential. 

There are several other takeaways from the boy’s journey. For example, failure and sacrifice are inevitable. Santiago was forced to sacrifice his cattle and his gold. This was an important step in his character arc because he learned to trust that he will end up where he is supposed to be. We can learn from this when we face roadblocks in which we must make sacrifices or start from the beginning. This is a classic example of what differentiates a growth mindset from a fixed one.

However, the Alchemist has more to offer than life lessons. It features mentors and love interests as well. For instance, the boy is guided on his journey by several mentors, including the crystal merchant, who gains from Santiago’s presence as much as Santiago does from his, and the titular character, the Alchemist, who lifts the boy during the most difficult part of the journey. Additionally, Coelho appeals to a wider audience by integrating a romance interest at both the beginning and the end, with a girl from Andalusia and a girl he meets during his journey in Africa. 

The author successfully creates a fable-like story packed with philosophical messages. Although part of me wishes the characters were developed more, the simplicity is what makes it such a hit. The messages are left up to the reader to develop further and apply into their daily lives should they choose to do so. I would recommend this book to both younger and older audiences because anyone could interpret the text in their own way. The Alchemist can be eye-opening to anyone who allows it to be.