The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 177 pages, 1988

Genre: Fiction, Fable

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: A number of people raved about it at Book Crazy; as well, it was constantly being asked for when I worked in a bookstore.

Synopsis: The young Santiago, a shepherd, sets off in the world to find various treasures, fighting between seemingly random, encouraging signs, and his own self-doubt.

Why you should read this book: The Alchemist is a story that is meant to inspire the reader out of a life that is most likely filled with “I can’t do it” or “I’ll do it when I have enough time/money/etc,” and largely succeeds – provided you’re in the right mood to listen. The language is sparse, tinged with the magic that many Latin American writers are famous for. Seeing Santiago deal with roadblocks is also inspirational to a person who thinks once they’ve made the wrong choice, they have to continue down the wrong path.

Why you should avoid this book: If you’re the kind of person who wants to club someone in the head for a comment like, “Ah, but life and happiness is that simple!” cut yourself a wide berth around The Alchemist.

Opening paragraph:

The boy’s name was Santiago. Dusk was falling as the boy arrived with his herd at an abandoned church. The roof had fallen in long ago, and an enormous sycamore had grown on the spot where the sacristy had once stood.

Fabulous quotes:

‘That’s the way it always is,’ said the old man. ‘It’s called the principle of favorability. When you play cards the first time, you are almost sure to win. Beginner’s luck.’

‘Why is that?’

‘Because there is a force that wants you to realize your destiny; it whets your appetite with a taste of success.’

But the sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired. Tangier was no longer a strange city, and he felt that, just as he had conquered this place, he could conquer the world.

Also Recommended: The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh; Big Fish by Daniel Wallace; Swift as Desire by Laura Esquivel.

Also by this author: (available in English translation) Life: Selected Quotations; The Witch of Portobello; The Zahir; Eleven Minutes; The Devil and Miss Prym; Veronika Decies to Die; Manual of the Warrior of Light; The Fifth Mountain; By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept; The Pilgrimage; The Valkyries; Maktub; Paul Coelho: The Confessions of a Pilgrim.

Author’s website:

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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