The Alchemist (novel) by Paulo Coelh

The Alchemist (Portuguese: O Alquimista) is a bestseller that was first published in Brazil in 1988 and is the most famous work of author Paulo Coelho. It is a symbolic story that urges its readers to follow their dreams.

Originally published in 1988, The Alchemist has been translated into 56 languages, and has sold more than 65 million copies in more than 150 countries, and is one of the best selling books in history.

Plot summary

Santiago, the protagonist, grows up with poor parents who struggled their whole lives to send him to seminary. But Santiago has a strong desire to travel the world, and so his father gives him three ancient Spanish coins to buy a flock of sheep.

As a shepherd, he spends several years traveling the countryside of Andalusia in southern Spain, enjoying the care-free and adventurous life of a wanderer. As the story begins, we learn that a year ago Santiago met the beautiful daughter of a merchant in a town he is soon to revisit. Even though he spent only a few hours talking with this girl, his strong feelings for her make him question his life as a shepherd and make him consider the merits of a more settled life. He sleeps in a church where a sycamore tree grew where the sacristy once was (refer to end).

When he arrives in the Tarifa, the port before the town where the girl lives, he first decides to go to a gypsy fortune-teller to help him decipher a recurring dream that he had been having. Santiago dreamt twice that a child is playing with his sheep and then takes him by the hand and brings him to the Pyramids of Egypt to show him the location of a hidden treasure. But Santiago always wakes up just before the child is going to reveal to him the exact location of the treasure. The gypsy says that he has to go because if it is a child that tells, it exists.

At first, the boy does not mind what the gypsy says, but when an old man, who calls himself Melchizedeck, the king of Salem, tells him that it is his Personal Legend or his purpose to live, he is interested. Melchizedeck tells him a wonderful story about a man who found true happiness by fulfilling his Personal Legend. The king gives the boy two stones, Urim and Thummim, one black and the other white, the black meaning "yes" and the white "no". These, he says, are for making decisions, although it is best to make them himself. Santiago decides to travel to Africa. He sells his sheep and goes to Tangier, a port in Africa near Spain. But in Tangier, he is robbed. Losing hope, he decides to walk about the city; up in a hill, and finds a crystal shop. When the boy enters the shop, he cleans the dusty crystal glasses in exchange for some food to eat. As he is cleaning two customers enter the store and buy some crystal glasses. The Arab merchant says that it is a good omen, as business had declined and the boy had attracted two customers, and hires the boy. Santiago learns that every person's fate is written, and that there is a Language of the World (unspoken) learned partly by his dealings with his sheep.

After almost a year, the boy decides to leave the crystal shop since he has enough money to buy a flock of sheep twice the size of the one he had before, and since he has since learned Arabic, can sell to Arabic merchants too. But he never buys a single sheep. He decides to fulfill his personal legend - to find his treasure.

He joins a caravan going to the desert where the Pyramids are found. In the caravan, the boy meets an Englishman who for ten years has searched for true alchemists. The Englishman has many books on alchemy that are unusual to the boy. In the caravan, he learns the language of the desert and the Soul of the World.

As the caravan rolls on toward the oasis, the two people in the caravan decide to learn from one another. As the Englishman attempts to observe the desert and learn its language, Santiago reads the Englishman's books and learns about alchemy. The Englishman tells him that the goal of alchemists is to purify metal by heating it for many years until all its individual properties are burned. After a while, Santiago stops reading and returns the books to the Englishman, and each tells the other he is not able to learn anything. Santiago concludes everyone has his or her own way of learning things.

When it arrives in the oasis, the caravan is welcomed and told that it will not be permitted to proceed further because of tribal wars. There is an Alchemist watching the caravan enter and thinks that the omens had told him his disciple was arriving with this caravan. Santiago helps the Englishman look for the alchemist. He meets a desert woman named Fatima who tells the group where the alchemist lives. The boy falls in love with Fatima's at first sight, and tells her that he loves her and wants her to be his wife. The Alchemist's disciple turns out to be Santiago.

Santiago meets the alchemist after averting a threat of tribal attack on the oasis through a vision he has while watching the flight of two hawks. The alchemist tells the boy that he will never be happy unless he fulfills his Personal Legend. Reluctant to leave the oasis because of his love for the desert girl Fatima, Santiago tells the alchemist that he wants to stay there, accepting the new role of councilor which was offered to him by the chieftain when Santiago saved the oasis by anticipating the nontraditional attack of the tribes. But the alchemist warns Santiago that in the future he would lose his ability to see omens because he stopped listening to the omens that told him to find his treasure and fulfill his Personal Legend. As a result he would lose his position as the councilor and he would regret not pursuing his destiny of finding his treasure.

Eventually, Santiago decides to leave the oasis with the Alchemist in pursuit of his treasure. While traveling through the desert, the boy learns from the Alchemist. He learns that each person who fulfills his personal legend enhances the Soul of the World, and that the world is just here to show God's glory. The alchemist also tells the boy to listen to his heart and understand it so it will not betray him. Santiago and his heart become friends, and Santiago's heart returns to the Soul of the World. Thus, allowing Santiago to understand the Language of the World.

Santiago and the alchemist are captured along the way by one of the warring tribes. The alchemist tells the chief that they have brought money to give to him. The money is accepted without question as it can buy many arms; the alchemist then declares that Santiago is a powerful alchemist and can turn himself into the wind and destroy the military encampment if he wants to. The leader demands to see this; the Alchemist then asks for three days preparation and if they fail he offers their lives. The chief accepts, but tells them they cannot offer their lives as they already belong to him. This is the ultimate test of Santiago's knowledge of alchemy. On the third day, Santiago leads the group to the top of a cliff and tells them that the action will take a while.

Using his knowledge of the Language of the World that he learned from his heart on his journey, Santiago talks to the desert, and teaches it about love, and eventually the desert allows Santiago to use his sands, saying that he would also need the wind to blow them. Santiago turns to the wind, and tells it that it hasn't met its full limits. The wind, curious about what it could do, strikes up a conversation about love with the boy. The wind does not know how to transform Santiago into wind, and suggests the boy talk to the heavens (the sun). The boy tells the wind that it must blow the sands so he will not be blinded when looking at the sun. The boy proceeds to talk to the sun, and after the sun tells him that although he is wise, he doesn't know how to turn Santiago into the wind. The wind, overjoyed that he knows that the sun has its limits, blows even harder.

The "Simum," the sandstorm that results, almost destroys the camp. Two commanders with the chief are fearful and tell him that they should stop this. The chief replies that he wishes to see the greatness of Allah and makes a mental note to remove the two from command as true desert men are not afraid. Santiago is told to talk to the hand that wrote all. The boy turns to the hand that wrote all, as he does so the universe falls silent, he decides to pray. Through his prayer he reaches into the Soul of the World; and sees that the Soul of the World, the Soul of God, and his own soul are all one. Santiago then turns himself into the wind and moves off the cliff to the far side of the camp, he does this as the Soul of God can perform miracles and his soul is the same as the Soul of God.

After turning himself to wind, Santiago and the alchemist travel on to the pyramids with an escort party provided by the general-chief. They stop at a coptic monastery, and the alchemist tells the escort party to return to their camp. There he meets a monk and they talk in the Coptic tongue. The monk invites them in. In the kitchen, the alchemist shows Santiago a demonstration of turning a pot of lead into gold. The alchemist divides the gold into four quarters and gives the monk one of the pieces for his generosity and hospitality. He gives a piece to Santiago, and one for him to return to the oasis. He gives the final piece to the monk for Santiago in case he ever needs it. Santiago and the alchemist talk after they leave the monastery, the Alchemist tells him a story of everybody plays a role in the history of the world. They separate three hours from the pyramids. Santiago's heart tells him that he should dig for his treasure where he weeps after getting to the pyramids of joy.

When Santiago arrives at the pyramids he falls to his knees and cries, where his tears have fallen he sees a Scarab Beetle digging in the sand, an omen. Santiago starts digging in the sand but finds nothing, thieves come and steal his gold and beat him up. Santiago gives up hope, but the robber tells him that he is stupid to have traveled so far. He then tells the boy of a recurring dream in which he had seen a treasure in an abandoned church where shepherds and their sheep slept, hidden under a sycamore tree growing where the sacristy once was. Santiago, who slept in this very same church at the beginning of his adventures, goes back to the monk to get money for the return trip and finds the treasure, a chest of Spanish gold coins. He laughs at the strange way God had chosen to show him his treasure.