Reviewed by Manisha Pahwa
Widely translated and read worldwide, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist tells a powerful story about a young Spanish shepherd named Santiago who embarks upon a journey to realize his dream of finding treasure at the pyramids in Egypt. Beginning on the cold ground at a ruined church in Spain with his flock of sixty sheep, Santiago starts his quest upon meeting a gypsy fortune teller and a mysterious and wise king. Their strong belief in him provides Santiago with the support and conviction he needs to reach Africa, where, under the heat of the desert, he inches closer towards achieving his dream. Santiago’s path is laden with both obstacles and omens – the often subtle signs that indicate which direction to follow. Although this story is about the journey and not the destination, the book’s brief ending provides readers with a moment of levity as Coelho reveals that there is much joy and humor when we discover our treasure.
Indeed, Santiago’s voyage is a metaphor for our own individual journeys to realize our dreams. Coelho imparts several core messages to readers; among them, to identify and pursue your destiny, live in the present, and understand that all things are one. Santiago is a reflection of those who follow their dreams, including those who envision a healthy and safe environment for all. How we live in the present not only makes the health of future generations better, but also enriches our lives now – those small yet significant acts such as opening a window for fresh air, going for a walk or cycle instead of driving, or cooking your loved ones a nice home-cooked meal. Recognizing that the environment and humans are united as one, Coelho aptly writes, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
The Alchemist is available at most libraries and bookstores. It has been translated to approximately 56 languages and has sold over 65 million copies in more than 150 countries.