NYC250 cover image See all stories from issue #250, January/February 2016

Book Review: The Alchemist
Don’t let fear win
Nahian Chowdhury

The Alchemist is a novel by Paulo Coelho about a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago who has a dream that if he travels to the Egyptian desert, he will find buried treasure beneath the pyramids.

The next day, he visits a gypsy woman and she tells him that he should follow his dream and go find the treasure. Instead of payment for the reading, she asks that he give her one-tenth of his treasure when he finds it.

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After leaving the gypsy, Santiago meets an old king who somehow knows all about Santiago’s past and can read his mind. He tells Santiago to let go of his fears and follow his dream.

He gives Santiago two stones and tells him that throughout his journey, if he should ever feel doubtful, he can ask the stones a “yes” or “no” question and they will tell him the right thing to do. Like the gypsy woman, the king does not ask for payment for his advice. Instead, he wants one-tenth of Santiago’s sheep.

Santiago sells the rest of his sheep to pay for the journey. He travels on a ship from Spain to Morocco. Once there, he must find a way to further finance his trip so he can get to the Egyptian desert. Santiago works for a crystal merchant for about a year and earns enough money.

People Are His Treasure

He joins a desert caravan that gets stuck in the midst of a tribal war and must stop at an oasis town until the violence stops. There, Santiago meets Fatima and falls in love for the first time.

Santiago also encounters the alchemist, a powerful sorcerer who has the ability to turn metal into gold. The alchemist gives Santiago strength when he is ready to give up and go back to being a shepherd. He teaches Santiago to be cautious and to heed omens.

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While trying to get to the pyramids, Santiago experiences obstacles; he trusts the wrong person, loses all his money, falls in love and loses all his money again, yet he still believes that there is treasure waiting for him at the end.

Regardless of all his hurdles, Santiago does not lose hope. And while searching for material wealth, he meets many people: the king who teaches him to go for his dreams, the crystal merchant who teaches him the value of destiny, Fatima, who shows him the meaning of love, and, most important of all, the alchemist, who gives him the power to talk to the wind and shows him how powerful nature can be. In a way, these people are his treasure.

Most people have dreams, yet I think few people go for them. Dreams are an important part of this novel. The protagonist crossed oceans and deserts all because of a dream. “It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” Coelho writes.

Hold on to Your Dreams

Throughout his journey, Santiago encounters many people who let go of their dreams and settle for less. He encounters a baker who wants to become a shepherd, but opens a bakery to make more money. He also meets a crystal merchant who puts off his pilgrimage to Mecca, because, he says, “I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

These are experiences that many of us, especially teens, have gone through. We’ve had moments when we excitedly tell people about our dreams only to have them say, “That’s what you want to do with your life?” with sour expressions on their faces. Or we have goals that we work toward for a long time, but then when we get close to accomplishing those goals, we suddenly give up.

And most importantly, sometimes we don’t go after our dreams because we’re afraid of what will happen if we fail to make them come true. We become afraid of what other people will say. “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” Coelho writes.

What I took away from this book is that I shouldn’t let the fear of failure, suffering, or sacrificing something stop me from going after what I want. When you have those fears, just remember what Coelho writes: “If you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Does Santiago find his treasure beneath the pyramids? Does Fatima wait for him? Read the book to find out.

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