The Alchemist tells the story of Santiago, a naive shepherd boy, who has a recurring dream in which he is told that there is a treasure burried near the Egiptian pyramids. After a gypsy fortune teller convinces him that he indeed needs to travel to the pyramids and find the treasure, Santiago sells his sheep to an old man. The old man is Melchizedek, the King of Salem. He reads Santiago’s mind, encourages him to go on the journey – in order to pursue his Personal Legend – and gives him Urim and Thummim, two stones that have the power to help the boy.
Shortly after the start of the journey, Santiago, in its naivity, is fooled by a thief. He manages to find work at a crystal shop, becoming close with the merchant and helping him considerably with its bussiness. Santiago’s plan is to make enough money to return home, but after eleven months of working at the crystal merchant’s shop, he heads towards the Pyramids. He has to go through several challenges, only to reach the end of his journey and realize that all this time, the treasure was at home, burried right under the sycamore tree he passed by every day as a shepherd boy.
The Alchemist has been praised for its story and writing style for a long time, and it’s still a popular book among the common reader. If you stop and ask a random passerby on the street, they probably will at least have heard of the book. I read a few Coelho books in the past, but the only one that I genuinely enjoyed was The Devil and Miss Prym. I could say that I had high expectations of The Alchemist, but unfortunately this book isn’t my cup of tea. I can understand why so many people love the book, but the story and style is not for me. Maybe Coelho’s style was better enjoyed by my younger self, but at this moment in my life, I find it sappy at times, and filled with cliches.
There is, of course, a spiritual message in this story. It’s a moral tale of how we sometimes don’t appreciate and don’t notice what we have right in front of us. There is also the theme of following one’s purpose in life – or fate, but sometimes being distracted by other events happening around us. For example, the crystal merchant has a dream of going to Mecca, but even when he has the money to do so, he decides not to. Why? Maybe being a successful crystal merchant is his purpose after all! Or maybe he is just an ordinary man who doesn’t follow his Personal Legend.
As the story continues, we see Santiago pass through several steps in his way to maturity. The final objective of the book is not wheather or not the shepherd boy finds the treasure, it’s about his initiation journey, a recurring topic in literature. What he learned from books while studying for priesthood is no longer of use in the real world, so Santiago has to find ways to survive and guide himself through the desert, to the Pyramids.
It’s a beautiful story, filled with different meanings and symbols, who can be enjoyed as a light read. I am not denying its value. Unfortunately, for me it was unsatisfying, as these types of stories don’t captivate me anymore.
My rating: 2/5 stars
Have you read the book? Did you enjoy it? Share your thoughts in the comments!