Classic book review: Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist”

TheAlchemistThe Alchemist (HarperOne), the 1988 novel by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, is such a popular book that The New York Times called it a “regular fixture in paperback on the front tables of bookstores.” It’s also been a regular on The New York Times best-seller list for 249 weeks. Celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Bill Clinton have praised the book.

It’s easy to see why it’s a classic. The book tells the story of a boy (no name is given) from Andalusia, Spain, who works as a shepherd and has a dream that he will find treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. An old man calling himself the King of Salem tells the boy that he knows his Personal Legend – his purpose in life – but most times a mysterious force tells people that the legend won’t happen and they give up.

But the old man says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Along the way, the boy encounters obstacles that he manages to turn around. He eventually gets to travel in the desert – where he falls in love with a young lady and he meets The Alchemist, who may be able to help him find his treasure. Just when he’s near his treasure, the boy faces one more obstacle.

The Alchemist a simple, fast read at 189 pages. But whether the reader likes it depends on a person’s tastes. For Oprah-loving types who believe life is about the journey, not the destination, this book will speak to them. More cynical types will find this a bunch of New Age hooey. I appreciated the message of the story, but it didn’t touch me in a way that other readers have raved about.

Still, I would recommend this book, especially to young people who seeking their way in life.

paulo_coelhoMore about Paulo Coelho:

Coelho, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was a law student, songwriter and political prisoner before his first book, The Pilgrimage, was published in 1980. His other books include Aleph and the just released Manuscript Found in Accra.

Source: I checked the book out of the library.

Note: This review is part of my series of classic Latino novels. Up next: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.



Filed under Book Reviews, Classic Books, Fiction

4 responses to “Classic book review: Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist”

  1. I put down “The Alchemist” with a feeling that I’d been preached to, although in a gentle and entertaining manner. It was one of those books that I felt obligated to read (“What, you haven’t read it?”) yet when I did it seemed as if I’d missed the big reason why it is so popular. Does it fall into the same category as “The Secret”–a book that purports to tell you the secret to getting what you want. Do these books have mass appeal because so many of us are searching for answers we cannot find inside ourselves?

    Really enjoying your reviews of the classics! Looking forward to the next one.

    • Jessica DeLeon

      Oooh, good point. I think I would have enjoyed the book more when I was younger. Now that I’m in my 40s, it’s like, “I’ve already heard this before.”

      And thanks for the compliment. I’m rereading “Oscar Wao” and loving it.

  2. I have to admit, I’m one of those people who loved it. Then again, I was in my twenties and in that “what does my life mean” stages. It would be interesting to read it again (like I said I would) to see how it speaks to me now. I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

    • Jessica DeLeon

      Thanks! I find that I like books more after I reread them. I liked “Pride and Prejudice” and “Oscar Wao” the first time, but I think they became richer the second time and I loved them even more.

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