The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (A book review and lesson on onions)

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a contemporary classic. Originally published over 25 years ago in Brazil, this book has come to endear itself with readers the world over. My husband brought the book home one day after a trip to Sam’s Club, and I decided that I would give it a go.

It is a simple tale: a shepherd boy leaves his homeland in Spain to go seek treasure next to the Egyptian pyramids. He must travel through countries with unfamiliar cultures and languages, and brave the harsh elements that makes up the Sahara dessert. Through his adventures and the people he meets the boy is drawn to open his eyes and heart to the world around him, and ultimately the God and Creator of all things.

The boy is a sweet little thing, if naive. The plot seems a bit laissez-faire, every time one thinks the boy is starting to progress or make headway something happens: there is a setback or disaster. All too often the boy throws his trust into random strangers (like you’re a shepherd, how are you telling me you’re not more street savvy than that?) and pays a heavy price. Portions of the book seem a bit windy and drawn out, though each occurrence has its own significance.

While the character seems to do silly things, I was willing to forgive him looking instead to see what the deeper meaning was behind the setbacks and losses. Like a religious text or ancient fairy tale there was often a dual meaning to each event and The Alchemist was rich in parables. I made it a game of peeling back the layers and trying to understand what Coelho was trying to teach in that moment. It reminded me of the scene in Shrek where Shrek is teaching Donkey about how ogres are like onions.

Critical to the writing were the themes of love, intuition, and a universality that links all things together.

The simple prose of the story provides a stark contrast that allows the deep wisdom that is truly the heart of the tale to stand out. Rather than being a book meant to be rushed through (doing so misses the whole point), the reader should take their time   observing how the stories speak to them. The Alchemist is not just the journey of a boy, rather it is  every person seeking their higher calling or purpose.


Question of the Day:

If you were to write (or have written) a story centralized around a theme, what would it be? I am partial to themes involving acceptance and simplicity.


4 thoughts on “The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (A book review and lesson on onions)

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