A Review of the Alchemist

Are you living your personal legend? Have you become distracted by how it is you want to live and what it is you want to create with this life? It happens to all of us. Even those who seem to have it figured out experience doubt, failure, and depression. This idea of your ‘personal legend’ is one of the important ideas I’ll dive into in this review of The Alchemist.

A Brief Overview of the Author

a review of the alchemist - coelho

The Alchemist is written by Paulo Coelho. Coelho is a well-known Brazilian novelist, writer, and lyricist. He was born in 1947 and grew up attending a Jesuit school from an early age. He knew he wanted to be a writer from a young age, but his parents didn’t approve. His passion for a less “traditional” path even led his parents to commit him to a mental institution at the age of 17. He escaped on three separate occasions before he reached the age of 20. The Alchemist is arguably Coelho’s most well-known and widely recognized work.

Intro to the Main Character

Coelho’s main character in The Alchemist is a young and adventurous man named Santiago. The reader is introduced to Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd, as he tends to the needs of his flock. At the start of the book, Santiago is continuously bothered by a recurring dream. In this dream, a child repeatedly tells him that he must find a great treasure that rests at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids.

In an attempt to understand the dream, Santiago seeks the opinion of a gypsy woman. She tells him that he must journey to the pyramids to find the true meaning of the dream, and this sentiment is echoed by a strange old man (who claims to be the King of Salem) who Santiago speaks to shortly after his encounter with the gypsy woman. Thus, Santiago decides to sell his flock and use the money for passage to Tangier.

The Main Character’s Journey

a review of the alchemist - front cover

Although he marvels at the architecture and beauty of the city, Santiago is robbed shortly after arriving in Tangiers. He is forced to take work in a shop run by a local crystal merchant. The merchant and Santiago grow close, and the boy’s many cunning business ideas help the merchant’s enterprise flourish. In the process, Santiago becomes quite a rich man in just one year.

He is tempted to stay in the crystal shop and the merchant certainly implores him to do so. But Santiago doesn’t forget that it is his Personal Legend to journey to the pyramids. He uses his earnings from the crystal shop to join a caravan that is traveling across the Sahara desert towards Egypt. In this caravan, he befriends an Englishman who is studying to become an alchemist.

It is from this Englishman that he learns the purpose of the caravan. They are traveling to a town that is rumored to be inhabited by a 200-year old alchemist. It is the Englishman’s intention to learn the secrets of alchemy from this man.

Luck befalls Santiago when nearby tribes erupt into a nasty war that forces the caravan to remain in the alchemist’s town for an extended stay. It is in this town that Santiago meets and falls in love with Fatima. He begins to think that he may have already found his treasure and that he might remain in the village and be quite happy.

But, alas, Santiago has a disturbing vision during a walk in the desert. He sees the village under attack, and by telling the chieftain of the village, they are able to defend themselves when this attack comes to fruition. The village’s famed alchemist learns of Santiago’s vision and invites him to his home. This is where he convinces Santiago that his Personal Legend does, indeed, still lie out across the desert in the direction of the great pyramids.

Ultimately, Santiago decides to leave his love, Fatima, behind to continue his pursuit of his Personal Legend. He undergoes a few more bumps and unexpected turns (I don’t want to give everything away!), but he does realize his Personal Legend in the end!

What is a ‘Personal Legend’?

So, what is a Personal Legend? Believe it or not, we all have one. At least that is the idea set forth by Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist. We all have a destiny and a fate to fulfill. We may not always (or rarely) understand how the decisions we make are leading us towards this destiny, but it lies there, down our road, nonetheless.

Coelho makes the point that there will be many distractions (or speed bumps) along the road to our Personal Legend. Santiago could’ve chosen not to believe the opinions of a gypsy woman and a strange, magical old man who implored him to give us his profession and strike out for Egypt.

He could’ve chosen to stay in the crystal shop in Tangier and grow his fortune. He could’ve elected to remain in that small Saharan village with the love of his life. And it is quite possible that, in any of these scenarios, Santiago may have found happiness and contentment. But Coelho’s statement is that, by settling for any of these scenarios and, in turn, letting go of his Personal Legend, Santiago may have fallen short of his potential on Earth, and he may have found regrets later in life as a result of those choices.

a review of the alchemist - back cover

How Do You Follow Your Personal Legend?

So how do we find and follow our Personal Legends? Coelho makes things quite simple for us in The Alchemist, but we don’t have the benefit of understanding the full story as we go through our lives. We can read a story like Santiago’s and say, “Well yes, of course, he had to leave the love of his life to pursue his treasure, because it was what was meant for him.”

But these kinds of things are always easy to say in hindsight. In our lives, I believe it is important to keep our Personal Legend in the forefront of our mind and remember that the journey we will take to achieve that legend will rarely be linear and pretty. It will be messy and ugly and involve twists and turns that we’d never expect.

The best way I can advise you to hone in on your Personal Legend is to answer the following question: “How would you spend your time and what would you want to create if money was no object?” Of course, money IS part of our reality, but it is a good exercise nevertheless. And it requires you to think deeper than the stock answer I used to give when I was a lazy teenager, “I would just do nothing!”

The reality (most likely) is that we’d all get very bored very quickly if we did nothing. There is some passion that each of us has rooted deep in our beings. There is some creative pursuit to which we are yearning to dedicate ourselves. I will end by saying that we cannot be afraid of these passions and creative pursuits. We are only limited by the amount of time and the number of breaths we have on this planet. So we better spend the moments we have pursuing our Personal Legends!

Your Turn!

Now it’s your opportunity to read and digest The Alchemist for yourself! This is by no means a full review of the many themes and thought-provoking statements in this novel, and I believe we will each find our own interpretation that benefits us most. If you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals.

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

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