This short, internationally acclaimed novel reads like a parable. The Alchemist is the story of a young man, simply known as “the boy”, in his quest to find his treasure. Similar to other literary quests or odysseys, the young man will encounter those who help him as well as obstacles along the way, but it is the internal journey he takes, the things he learns, that matter most. The Alchemist is a very spiritual book that emphasizes the connectedness of all things and all people and why pursuing one’s “treasure” is so important on a personal and cosmic level.
When we meet the boy, who is in his late teens, he is a shepherd in Spain, traveling with his flock. He had been a student and was destined for the priesthood but realized that that life was not meant for him. He loves travel and to see new things, which being a shepherd allows him to do. Yet he is troubled by a recurring dream about finding a treasure at the pyramids in Egypt. He consults a dream reader and a strange old man who claims to be a king, and then resolves to follow their advice to pursue this dream. The boy is excited and confident, experiencing “beginners luck” at being able to read the omens before him and make it to Tangiers. There, his belief in his dream and his confidence are put to the test. The ill fortune that befalls him there might have made him turn around for home and the life of a shepherd again, but the boy listens to his heart. He pays close attention to his surroundings and finds a way to get back on track in pursuit of his dream of the pyramids.
In Part 2, the boy joins a caravan headed through the desert to Egypt, and on this journey he becomes acquainted with an Englishman who is on a quest to find the alchemist. The Englishman has many books which he reads on camelback while the boy spends his time observing the desert and the way it speaks to him. From the Englishman, the boy learns about the Soul of the World, that is, the principle that governs all things, the positive force that unites all creation and that one can sense while pursuing one’s dream. The Soul of the World is the universal language; in short it is love. It is the connective tissue throughout creation, a kind of collective soul. The Englishman reads about it but the boy realizes he has already known about it through his observations. Thus, when the alchemist appears, it is not to the Englishman that he is drawn but to the boy.
The alchemist becomes a teacher and spiritual guide to the boy as he pursues his “Personal Legend,” which is another way of saying his dream or heart’s desire. In their conversations as they cross the desert, the alchemist explains that while all people have some dream to pursue, most don’t follow through either because they feel unworthy or because they fear failure and suffering. He warns the boy that while “beginner’s luck” helps people get started on their quests, the journey does grow more difficult, and that just before the realization of your dream, you will be put to the test. As they travel, the obstacles facing the boy increase. He falls in love with a lovely girl at an oasis and longs to be with her. Warring tribes are a constant threat, but even worse, the boy’s heart experiences fear. He must learn to listen to his heart while not letting fear overpower it.
The Alchemist would be a perfect gift for graduates (more than that Dr. Seuss book that everyone turns to in June), but it’s a wonderful read for anyone who has a dream that is as yet unrealized. Pursuing a dream, rather than being a selfish endeavor, might in fact be a way of making the entire world a better place. Anything motivated by love and creating love connects us to our world in a powerful and positive way. This was a lovely novel to read during these discouraging times.