The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Nov 28, 2017

Mike read this several years ago, and I remember the one thing he said when he was finished was, "It seemed like the story was created for the sole purpose of sharing an allegory."

In other words, it was a little contrived, maybe even to the point that if you stripped away all of the life lessons, you wouldn't be left with much of a story.

With that less-than-glowing recommendation, I didn't rush out to read it. But when it was chosen for my book club, I was optimistic. I knew many readers who claimed it among their favorites. Maybe I would be one of them. At any rate, it was short, and sometimes a short book is a blessing.

It is the story of Santiago (I listened to the whole book and didn't realize that was his name until I went to book club), a young shepherd, who decides to leave his flock in Spain in search of an elusive treasure in Egypt. Along his journey, he meets several wise mentors who offer him counsel about the value of pursuing his personal legend. In the end, he finds his treasure but not where he expected.

I think I came away from the book with similar feelings to Mike. All of the lessons and morals are right there in front . . . with flashing lights around them . . . and a giant arrow pointing them out . . . absolutely impossible to miss. The story itself just kind of limps along behind.

But even though it wasn't the most subtle of allegories, I still found myself jotting down quotes--things I wanted to remember or ponder or discuss with my book club.

For example, Santiago works for a crystal merchant for nearly a year to earn and save money for his journey. The crystal merchant has always dreamed of traveling to Mecca and has a pile of money saved for just this purpose, but he admits that he'll probably never go because "I'm afraid that if my dream is realized, I'll have no reason to go on living." This hit me hard. As someone who loves the anticipation almost more than the realization, I can see myself doing something similar--leaving my dreams as exactly that--dreams--so I'll have something to continue to look forward to. And I think I'm always a little worried that whatever I'm dreaming about won't turn out to be as amazing as I'm imagining it to be, and I don't want to be disappointed.

The flip side to this is that I'm also extremely anxious about bad things happening in the future. I dread the unknown horrible event that is surely just around the corner, and I resist making any changes to my life that might possibly bring any of those imaginings to fruition. At one point, Santiago talks to a camel driver and asks him if he is afraid of the looming war. The camel driver answers: "Because I don't live in either my past or my future, I'm interested only in the present. If you can concentrate only on the present. you'll be a happy man." And Melchizedek, the seer, counsels him: "If good things are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise. If bad things are, and you know in advance, you will suffer greatly before they even occur."

I believe that both of those statements are true, but another part of me wants to cry out, like Santiago: "My heart's afraid it'll have to suffer!" And I love what the alchemist counters with: "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 encounter with God and with eternity."

That advice resonated deeply with my personal belief that my life here on earth is but one step in my eternal progression to become more like my Heavenly Father. It's hard for me to keep that perspective at the front of my mind though when the physical cares and pressures and heartache of this life press down upon me (which makes it sound like my life is really hard, and it's not--at least not right now--but I'm always worrying that it's going to be).

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that even though the story itself felt somewhat pedantic, I could overlook most of that because I came away with new insights and a renewed desire to pursue my ambitions and dreams.

What was your greatest takeaway from this book? Were you disappointed by the lack of plot or inspired by the many moralistic lessons?


  1. My biggest takeaway from the book was that the people who love you want you to fulfill your dreams. Once I got into the book, I liked it. I don't think it is meant to be a story at all, I think it's meant to be an allegory. So, once I figured that out I was like "oh ok, so this is how it's gonna be." And I was able to enjoy it.

  2. I read this a number of years ago and was so unimpressed. Them morals and lessons just seemed so obvious to me. I should give it another try though. Maybe I'll find something there I didn't see before.

  3. My husband read this book and loved it. So I read this book and found it... obvious. Not much of it stuck with me (except for the part about how the girl stays home patiently waiting for him to fulfill his dreams, and my feminist college professor who hated it passionately for that reason). But I recognize my husband in a lot of what you described about yourself. He loves anticipating happy things almost more than the happy things themselves, and on the flip side dreads unhappy things more than actually suffering through them. I'm actually not like that at all. I enjoy the memory of things far more than I enjoy anticipating them (and sometimes, especially when it comes to things with my kids, I enjoy the memory far more than the actual experience).


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