The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho was first published back in 1988. Initially, it had poor visibility and the publishing house told Coelho he had better chances of making it rich through the stock exchange. After taking some time off, Coelho invested time and effort into marketing the book, holding to his belief that it can be a success. Early in the 1990s, it became a bestseller, and today the book is well-recognized and read.
Surrounded by his herd of sheep, Santiago, a young Andalusian boy, sleep under a sycamore tree in an abandoned church. He has stopped here for the night to rest, before continuing on to sell wool at a nearby town. The boy is troubled by a reoccurring dream. Santiago wonders whether the sheep understand him and whether he can understand their way of communicating. In this dream, he is told of great treasures waiting for him at the pyramids.
Upon arriving at the town, Santiago notices a gypsy woman, of whom he consults with her regarding his dream. She reinforces what the dream stated, saying he should travel to Egypt. Shortly after this encounter, the boy stumbles into a magical old man. The old man repeats the advice given by the gypsy woman and tells Santiago that he should sell the sheep and go to Tangier. The boy, trusting these signs to be true, goes off to Tangier. Here, unfortunately, he is robbed of the money he received and is left with nothing. The boy takes up work with a local crystal merchant who teaches him several important lessons. Santiago urges the merchant to take a risk with his business. It pays off and both become profitable.
…whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.
Santiago uses this money to help fuel is journey onwards toward the pyramids. He joins a caravan headed through the Sahara Desert towards Eygpt. On this caravan, he meets an Englishman who is studying to become an alchemist. The Englishman teaches Santiago many things about alchemy and the philosophy between perfecting things and life. He also speaks of a powerful, 200-year-old alchemist residing in the oasis of Al-Fayoum. The Englishman hopes to meet him in order to learn more about turning metals into gold. It seems like fate is on his side, as the caravan is forced to make an extended stop at this oasis. The boy meets and falls in love with a girl he sees at the watering hole. Her name is Fatima. He contemplates staying with her.
While out walking, Santiago witnesses an omen in the sky that suggests an attack is imminent. He warns the tribal chieftains, of whom choose to believe his words. Al-Fayoum defends itself from the assault and, as a result, the alchemist hears of the boy’s vision. The alchemist takes Santiago on a trip through the desert, during which he imparts knowledge of many things to the boy.
A tribe of Arab warriors captures them before they reach the pyramids. They offer all their valuables to the warriors. The alchemist warns that the boy will turn into wind within three days. Santiago feels confused and unsure about how he can become nature. He communicates with the wind on the third day and a sandstorm sweeps through the area, leading to their release. Before departing from the boy on the way to the pyramids, the alchemist demonstrates how to turn lead into gold using the Philosopher’s Stone.
Santiago finally reaches the pyramids. He begins to dig for the treasure when two men approach him. They beat him up in the hopes of finding treasure too. When Santiago begins to describe the dream he has had, the man tries to discard its meaning and value. The man speaks of his own, seemingly worthless dream, of a treasure buried under a sycamore tree growing in an abandoned church. The boy finally understands where the treasure is.
The book is about devotion to a life goal. It shows us the extent and challenges one must face when believing or following a personal pursuit. We see the boy having to give up many things: the flock of sheep, Fatima, and other securities. Suffering and regret may burden you if you fail to realize this goal, so keep looking. Finally, to live a satisfying life, you have to be willing to dig deep into your visions and beliefs. Furthermore, these visions and signs are all around us and will guide you along this journey if you look closely. Do not settle for what you have.
We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions or our property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.
Fear is natural, but you have to hold firm to your faith and values. Ultimately, one cannot run or avoid it forever. Face these obstacles and recognize that you play a role in the greater scheme of things. Maktub.