I know that you’re wondering how The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has anything to do with Brazil. In this case, it’s doubly confusing because it’s my classic as well as a Brazil book (my country for the month). Basically, it’s nearly impossible to find a classic set in Brazil. Nearly, as in completely (if you don’t count Jules Verne’s Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, which I don’t, mainly because you can’t even find it at a library—a place where all true classics live). So I went to classic literature by Brazilian authors, of which Paulo Coelho is one. There’s not a ton of these either, and many are modern writers, but modern classics are a thing, and I think we’d agree that The Alchemist is considered one. So although this book is set in Spain, North Africa, and Egypt, it’s my Brazilian classic of the month because Coelho is, in fact, Brazilian.
Santiago, a shepherd boy (though boy is somewhat subjective as he’s between about 18 and 22 throughout the book) from Andalusia, Spain, has a dream, which sends him on a journey to Egypt. He meets Melchizedek, the king of Salem (also known for being a great ruler to whom Abraham paid tithes), who encourages him to realize his personal legend. To do so, Santiago must give up a familiar, comfortable life as a shepherd, brave the Mediterranean Sea, and pass into North Africa, filled with warring tribesmen and an unfamiliar language and culture.
This book is about destiny, but more than that, it’s discovering your dreams and striving to make them come true despite the difficulties. It’s fiction sprinkled with some self-help and religion, making it an interesting, inspiring read.
The Characters. Santiago, the boy, is the main protagonist. He dreamed once of traveling, so he became a shepherd and followed his sheep around southern Spain. But upon finding a new dream, that of going to the pyramids (to find a treasure), he works to make it happen, even if he needed a nudge from Melchizedek and a great deal of help along the way.
The other character that made an impact was The Alchemist. Alchemists are traditionally known for trying to turn other metals into gold, but this Alchemist—a true alchemist—is all about changing the self to align with the Soul of the World, the center of creation. Once this occurs, than metal into gold and men into wind is just another aspect of understanding the universe. It’s an interesting concept that gives people a divine touch, something I personally believe in (our divinity).
The Storyline. This book is short and sweet. Coelho gets to the point, which seems to be rare. Instead of a complicated, cryptic plot that twists and turns, it chooses to be straightforward: boy has a dream, goes to North Africa, travels to Egypt, and so forth. The ending is slightly open-ended, but we know what’s going to happen. He doesn’t have to spell out every detail, but does bring it to a conclusion.
The Writing. Like the plot, the writing is also simple while still being powerful. Coelho throws in several interesting, thought-provoking, and inspiring statements:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
“One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.”
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
“This is what we call love. When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you.”
I could really go on for pages, that’s how awesome the quotes are.
If you want to follow your dreams, but are afraid of trying or failing, read this book. It buoys you up. Plus, you can read all the fabulous quotes that I didn’t have the space to add.