Book Review: The Alchemist

by Paolo Coehlo

There’s so many reasons to like this book. It’s a whimsical tale of a boy on a journey to find treasure. along the way, he meets an assortment of characters that help him find his way and teach him the value of the things he has. It’s really quite deep philosophically speaking and delves into the notion of following one’s heart.

It has the feel of a fairytale which incorporates many philosophical aspects and religious aspects into one compelling narrative. As a book, I really like the way it’s built, to show the boys journey into manhood, learning to not take failure as the end of a journey but as a lesson to learn from. Paolo does a great job moving the story along getting the main point across without lingering too long. Within every page and interaction there’s some little nugget of conventional wisdom to be found. whether it be about persevering through adversity, believing in your own ability, following your dream. There are some aspects I personally don’t believe in and I think taken seriously can lead to disappointment. I believe those elements work for the book but are not meant to be applicable in life. To each there own, but that does not take away the fantastical world Paolo has created nor the truly important lessons learned from this journey.

We can pick and analyze a lot from this book, but I think that what I like about it. Whether I believe it or not it starts an internal dialogue in my head that lets me think and ponder on the questions of what really matters. I think that’s why this book is so good. It’s definitely a compelling read and can be motivational. I can see why this book has such a high appeal.

*Spoilers*

I think for this spoiler talk I would like to quote some portions of the book and talk about them individual contextualizing it with the story. I will also be talking about spiritual aspects because this book takes liberties in using stories from the Bible

When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it,” the old king had said.

This is a line often repeated by the boy throughout his adventure. In the beginning, he was a lowly shepherd boy, content with walking from city to city selling the fur from his sheep. In the process of going to one city from the next, in the hopes of reuniting with a girl he once had a conversation with, he meets someone who calls himself a king. The name of this king is actual the name of someone from the Bible in Genesis who is actual considered to be Jesus in most circles. The boy was having reoccurring dreams about a treasure near the pyramids and this king appears to him one day as he is resting. He tells him that there’s treasure to be sought and tells him to sell his sheep and go through the dessert to find it. He then tells the boy this line and the boy uses it to reassure himself of the journey he is taking. Now as a christian I don’t believe in this line. I believe God has given us the ability to chose what we do, where we go, and how we do things but that does not guarantee success. Sometimes things don’t work out, but I do believe we go through things for a purpose that is more important than we think. its even stated in different section in this when he runs into the Alchemist who tells him about the centurion in the Bible, how he sought after Jesus and when he found him realized he was looking into the face of God and told Jesus only speak a word and my servant will be healed. The alchemist brought up the story of the centurion to illustrate that actions as small as what he did are important and follows up by saying this: “No matter what he does every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world.”

One of the issues I find is that when it comes to wisdom in this book, it’s half complete. for instance, as a christian I think about how everything relates to the Bible so while I find something to be true I also find that its missing a fundamental feature of what makes it true. that or I don’t agree with the statement broadly, but only in part. That does not take away from what I like from the story, I’m just isolating the philosophical parts. So in one part, they are talking about how you should follow your heart, and while in context I know it means to follow your dream, or seek out what you are working for, as a broad statement, I don’t agree with it. the Bible says the heart is fickle, it changes, what it desires one day may not be what it desires the next. It says the heart is deceptive. Broadly, people can use that statement to mean whatever it means to them. Follow my heart can mean to be irresponsible. so I think a statement like that needs to come with some kind of context. I’m glad to say that this book does do a careful job at illustrating that.

One line I liked said this: “The alchemist answered,” when you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them seldom are you believed.”

So on the last leg of the journey the boy and the alchemist are confronted by a group of Arabs. there is war among the desert people, so they are questioned for what reasons they are crossing the desert. in response the alchemist tells him the truth and says he is carrying the elixir of life and concoction that can turn anything to gold and the Arabs just laugh at that response. the boy then questions the alchemist and he responds with the above.

There’s a bible verse that says, “For where your treasure is; there your heart will be also.” this is in reference to when Jesus is saying not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, where it all will go away, but to think eternally. Basically, whatever you value will be the priority and our priority should not be on material things. So the reason I like what the alchemist says is because its true. As a christian, I believe the treasure i have is knowing there’s a God who loves us and died for our sins, and when find that whenever I tell others seldom am I believed.

Another great line is about love;

“Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are”

This is true. Love doesn’t steal, hurt, murder, lie, covet, lust. It’s not selfish, its kind, gentle, not boastful. the Bible says love fulfills all the commands. That you can distinguish someone who wholeheartedly believes in God by the way they love. Love is the quintessential indicator of a heart after God’s own heart. It brings out the best in us because it’s the whole of him.

Like I said this book is a great book, it’s one that I both admire for its whimsy and its thoughtfulness. I highly recommend. Thanks for reading! God bless!

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