The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

I’m not quite sure how to go about reviewing this fable of a book. Let’s start with the basics:

Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho (translated by Alan R. Clarke)
Date Published: 1993
Pages: 167
Genre: Fiction?? (Borders has all of Coelho’s books shelved under “Metaphysical Studies”)

My Favorite Quotes

“Now I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years.”

“I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

Character List (in order of appearance)

  • The alchemist
  • The boy
  • The merchant’s daughter
  • The Gypsy woman
  • Melchizedek, the King of Salem
  • Owner of the bar
  • The young thief
  • The candy seller
  • The crystal merchant
  • The Englishman
  • The leader of the caravan
  • The camel driver
  • The Bedouins
  • Fatima
  • The guard
  • The chieftains
  • Three armed Arabs
  • Band of rival tribesmen
  • The monk
  • The refugees from the tribal wars

Settings (in order of appearance)

  • Andalusia (Spain)
  • Tarifa (Spain)
  • Tangier (Africa)
  • Oasis (Africa)
  • Desert camps of waring tribes (Africa)
  • Coptic monastery (Africa)
  • Pyramids (Africa)
  • Andalusia (Spain)

Prologue – The alchemist reads a story about the lake who weeps when Narcissus is killed.
Part I – Shepard boy has a dream about the pyramids for the second time. He goes to a Gypsy woman who interprets the dream in exchange for a tenth of his treasure if he gets it. At the Tarifa village, the boy meets Melchizedek, the King of Salem who helps him start on the path of his Personal Legend. In Tangier, Africa, the boy is robbed. He meets the crystal merchant. The boy decides to give up on his Personal Legend.
Part II – The boy works for the crystal merchant for a year, making the business very profitable. He leaves the crystal merchant, once against following his Personal Legend. He joins a desert caravan and meets an Englishman who teaches him about alchemy. When the caravan reaches an oasis, he meets his true love Fatima. He listens to the Soul of the World and is told about a coming attack on the oasis. He warns the chieftains and is made counselor of the oasis. He meets the alchemist and leaves the oasis with the alchemist to head for the pyramids. Along the way, the boy learns to listen to his heart. The boy performs a miracle and turns himself into the wind after conversing with the desert, wind, sun, and “the hand that wrote all.” The pair reach a Coptic monastery where the alchemist turns lead into gold. The boy is left alone and goes to the pyramids. He is robbed and beaten by some refugees, one of whom tells the boy of his dream about a treasure in Andalusia.
Epilogue – The boy goes to Andalusia (to the church where he started) and finds a great chest of treasure there. He then heads back to get Fatima.

The Bottom Line: This story is presented in parable/fable form. While there are many benefits to telling the story in the parable format, plot and especially character development are somewhat lacking. However, it is hard to ignore the simple prose and the powerful message contained in this little book. The story is very readable. It made me think about my own “Personal Legend” in the context of my own life and beliefs. I think the universality of this book is what has made it such a success. It is definitely worth the read.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho [rating:3]