Title: The Alchemist
Text type: Novel
Author: Paulo Coelho
I took it upon myself to read the Alchemist because I got the impression of it being a classic must-read book with a near cult-status after people continuously referring to it: this prompted a curiosity within me to find out what the novel was all about.
The Alchemist is an ancient tale about a young Spanish boy, Santiago who decides to forge his own destiny rather than do what is traditionally expected of him. Due to his curiosity and desire to travel, he decides to become a shepherd as this was the only occupation at the time allowing one to travel. The tale accompanies Santiago and his flock through Spain and then further afield when he travels through northern Africa and to the Egyptian pyramids on a mission where he undertakes his dream of travelling and finding a hidden treasure.
In short, I can state that the Alchemist is about following your dreams and choosing your own destiny by listening to your heart, or following your personal legend as it is referred to in the book. This theme is obvious in the novel, as when Santiago experiences recurring dreams about the Egyptian pyramids and finding a hidden treasure, a fortuneteller interprets his dream and advises him to find the treasure – a mission that Santiago sets out to do, following personal legend.
A second theme that is of significance to the story is listening to your heart, a theme that grows more important as the novel unfolds. Initially, Santiago does not have the ability to interpret what his heart is saying, but as the book progresses and especially when Santiago meets the Alchemist, he learns to listen and communicate with his heart as well as how to build patience and faith to trust that his heart will supply the answers Santiago needs, even if the occasion comes at the very last minute.
An interesting and unexpected twist in the story that has tapped into my thoughtfulness is found at the end of the novel when Santiago finds his treasure in Egypt, the treasure surprisingly instructs him to return to the ruined church where the story started – the place he left to follow his personal legend. After a long journey home, which was only briefly described by Coelho, he found his true treasure in the church of Spain, which was the chest in the traditional variety of gold and jewels. This aspect of the Alchemist has taught me that often our dreams and goals in life take us far from home when we search for them, and these journeys often take us back to where we started. However, if Santiago found the treasure in the church when he started – he would be poorer as he would not be enriched with the lessons he learned on his journey to find his treasure and personal legend. This has taught me that sometimes, we look too far, but we learn a lot about ourselves on the journey and this can be worth as much as our goals themselves.
As a goal orientated person, and perhaps a bit of a dreamer, The Alchemist has helped me receive the message that in order to achieve your dreams and goals, you must be willing to endure hardships and setbacks yet still have the faith, patience and strength needed to continue and never losing sight of your goal. I believe that to my generation, who tends to be idle, expecting that we will all land on our feet, avoiding work and obstacles, this message, is of very high value. With growing numbers and seriousness of global issues, and worldly conflict it is more important than ever for us to exercise resilience and “grit” to overcome setbacks and continue to work towards our goals – and keeping in mind that the journey getting to our goals are of equal importance as achieving them.
The Alchemist is indeed a timeless story and the fact that the book was set far before modernised times emphasises its perpetual and universal meaning. It has taught me that to get the most out of life we must go our own way and pave our own path so that we all can individually satisfy our dreams or personal legends – it also has highlighted that achieving your goals is far from a breeze, but the knowledge and experience you gain on your journey to get there holds value and importance on its own. I will think of The Alchemist as I travel through life, and I have been forever inspired to be as true to my dreams as Santiago was.