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The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

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An Exchange of Dreams
A book review of “The Alchemist”
Czarina Nadine M. Sanchez
Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” -Melchizedek

Have you experienced holding on to a dream, a dream that serves as your passageway to achieving your Personal Legend?

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist focused on the concatenation of a boy’s journey in life that began as an unfinished dream which led shepherd Santiago, the boy, to his own Personal Legend. However in the first part of the story, it somehow did not correlate with the novel’s title. For it was only focused on the boys travel together with his flock of sheep. But then on the latter part of the novel, the essence of the title was revealed, for it introduced an important character in the novel who is the Alchemist.

Aside from the title the author also used several instruments to abdicate the boy’s personal legend. And the most important instrument that he used is the boy’s dream. The boy’s dream inside an abandoned church where there was an enormous sycamore that grew where the sacristy was. The boy’s revelation of his dream to the interpreter goes like this: “I had the same dream twice; I was in the field with my sheep, when a child appeared and began to play with the animals. I don’t like people to do that, because the sheep are afraid of strangers. But children always seem to be able to play without frightening them. The child continued to play with my sheep for quite a while and suddenly the child took my both hands and transported me to the Egyptian pyramids. Then the child said to me, ‘if you come here you will find a treasure’ and just as she was about to show me the exact location I woke up both times.” Well this is a hint of what the boy’s Legend is all about.

One of the fundamentals of a good novel is its setting. The author’s variety of settings are not so particular to the readers especially when they are not familiar with the cities in other countries such as: Andalusia, Tarifa, Al-Fayoum and Tangier, but there are a number of hints written by the author such as the languages used in those places and the ideas of how these places looked like. In Andalusia Spanish was the language used and Tarifa is only four days of travel from Andalusia which means it was just near by. These two places were found in Spain. While Tangier was described as a commercial place there are some narrow streets where you can pass by and there’s a plaza where the market was held. While Sahara is a very wide desert and a way to Egypt and Al-Fayoum was an oasis with fifty thousand palm trees and three thousand wells, These four places were found in North Africa where they speak Arabic.

In the story somehow the life of Santiago seemed to be synonymous with the Alchemist’s but in a diverse way. Santiago’s personal legend is to execute his dream, a dream that would lead him to his treasure and the Alchemist’s legend was to make gold out of metals, and of course a part of it is to help Santiago to finish his own personal legend.

The author’s abundance of characters encompassed interesting twists to the story. These characters are a part of the boy’s universe that conspired to help him achieve his Legend. The characters are consecutively introduced in the novel. First one is a girl, a typical girl in Andalusia, who is the daughter of a merchant to whom the boy sold his wool. This girl became out of the ordinary to Santiago, for he liked the girl and he kept on thinking about her during his travel. But then a question was asked by the girl. “Well if you know how to read, why are you just a shepherd?” And the author answered it by the disclosure of the boy’s background. It proves that their family was not that abundant. They lived in a farm and Santiago entered a seminary when he was sixteen there he learned Spanish, Latin and theology. His parents wanted him to become a priest but he told them that he wanted to travel, and to see the castles in different towns. But only the ones who are plentiful can travel and those who were like them can travel only if they were shepherds. That point proves that the boy really is unswerving to pursue what he wanted. He then became a shepherd. His unfinished dream somehow doesn’t make sense so during his travel he went to a gypsy lady in Tarifa who interprets dreams. And as he finished telling his dream, the boy was asked to promise to give the lady one tenth of his treasure. And so she said that the dream was In the language of the world and Santiago needs to go the Pyramids of Egypt.

Furthermore another instrument and also a character had taken its place in the journey of the boy. He was Melchizedek, the king of Salem, whose words and senses are beyond what normal people have. He knew all about Santiago, not only Santiago but also other people who have their Personal legends. In this part the author’s points of view were abdicated. His ideas about The soul of the world which can be felt by the entire universe, The language of the world in which the universe were able to understand each other by this language, The mysterious force which seems to be a negative force but serves otherwise, The Principle of Favorability or the Beginner’s luck, and of course The omens, which foretell the future whether it is good or bad. Other instruments are the Urim and Thummim, which are black and white stones. Black signifies ‘yes’ and white signifies ‘no’ they will help Santiago to decide during his journey. These things served as the boy’s weapons or armaments in making his Personal Legend into reality. In return to these things the boy also has to give one tenth of his flock to the king.

Although this novel has a slow movement of the plot, there is still a very smooth flow of the story which anticipates the readers more and more as they go over the readings. And gives insinuation to what will happen next and a hint in the story sequence. At first he interpreted his dream, next is he met Melchizedek and helped him to understand what his personal legend is, and of course next is for him to go where his treasure is.

Moreover the novel presented several conflicts, conflicts of man against man, man against his environment and man against himself. It all happened when Santiago reached North Africa. The first conflict happened in Tarifa. He met a thief who embittered him and took all his money and the only ones left are the Urim and Thummim. But despite of this great loss, the boy remains determined to finish his Legend. He met a crystal merchant who had been selling crystals for thirty years and there the boy worked to help him and he became a good omen to the crystal merchant because after numerous years of selling crystal glasses, that was the only time he had so many costumers and the crystal shop even became more abundant when they decided to sell tea in crystal glasses. The author also revealed the merchant’s Personal Legend but he doesn’t want to make it into reality, his dream of going to Mecca. He learned the word “maktub” from the crystal merchant which means that every thing was written. And the destiny of every person was already planned and written by only one hand. After almost a year of working for the merchant the boy must continue his Journey. The second conflict was when Santiago is on his way to the Pyramids of Egypt. There was a Tribal war in the desert and they have to settle in a nearby oasis. As they travel he knew a lot about the language of the world. The author used lifeless instruments to describe this such as the sand and the wind. During his travel to the pyramids Santiago met an Englishman who is very eager to meet an Alchemist. An alchemist is the one who turns metal into gold, but before they can do that they first have to study the language of the world, the own legend of the copper, and of course the lead, before he can perform alchemy. As they travel they were able to reach their target place which is the oasis. There in the oasis called Al-Fayoum there are a multitude number of citizens, males and females, young and old. As they search for the alchemist, there’s one lady who caught Santiago’s heart. Her name was Fatima. Another twist of the author’s mind had taken its place. Santiago fell deeply in love with Fatima, but what would we expect? We all know that Santiago has to fulfill his Personal Legend and time would come he has to leave Fatima. But Fatima said “Maktub, if I am really a part of your dream, you’ll come back one day”. And so his journey continued. The last conflict happened here. When Santiago had a vision of the omen given by the hawks that had been attacking each other, he saw that the army with their swords is going to the oasis. And so he told the chieftains about this and for once his life was put into danger. If the army will not go there in the oasis his life would be taken from him. That same night as he wanders around a horseman approached him and pointed a sword onto his forehead and asked him “who read the meaning of the flight of the hawks?” And he valiantly answered the man that reminded him of Saint Santiago Matamoros who is also riding a horse “It is I who dared so because many lives will be saved because I’ve read the soul of the world”. Then the horseman left him and asked Santiago to go and see him the next day if the army comes and Santiago would still be alive then he pointed to the south… Santiago met the Alchemist.

The author’s creativity gave a very relevant incident in his novel. He used the Alchemist to test the boy’s bravery and consistency in his words. But then the boy’s heart is very strong and ready to face any danger because of his trust to the soul of the world. After that incident Santiago has to fulfill his journey and so together with the Alchemist they went across the dessert despite the fact that there is a danger of the tribal war. The two of the riding a horse across the desert had a synonymous journey in life. They shared a lot in common. They both understand the Language and the soul of the world and they were able to learn a thing from each another. But the danger of the desert does not let anyone to interfere without suffering. They were caught by a tribe and thought they were spies and were sentenced to be killed, immediately the foible inside Santiago arouse, But then through the Language and the soul of the world, with the help of the sand, of the wind, of the sun and of the hand that wrote it all, the two were saved.

Undeniably Paulo Coelho’s formality in writing a novel is indeed a big part in the interest of the readers. His ideas and choices of words to be used are certainly wide however it can be understood easily because of his story content. And his words correlate with the readers’ minds and can be able to reach an individual’s imagination. If you were to read the novel, as you go closer to the climax you would feel so petrified with how the character would find his treasure without knowing where it would be but then the author’s privilege of showing us how it happened was very artistic.

However after Santiago and the Alchemist were able to surpass the tribe war they came upon a seminary where the alchemist performed an alchemy. He turned copper and lead into gold and divided it into four, he kept the first part, gave the second one to the monk who admitted them and gave the third part to Santiago. The last part was again given to the monk’s care for he knows that Santiago would need it for sometime. As Santiago went on his way to the pyramids of Egypt he remembered the things said by the alchemist: “Where your treasure is, there will also be your heart” and so his heart told him: “Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That’s where I am and that’d where the treasure is”. As he reached the top of the dune, he saw the beauty of the pyramids and there he wept and thank God for the fulfillment of his Personal Legend. As he dig for his treasure several figures approached him and asked him what he was doing there, and he told them that he was digging for treasures, but the men didn’t believe him and instead took the gold in his bag and attacked him, he was left bruised and bleeding. Then the leader of the attackers approached him and told him. “Don’t be stupid, two years ago right here on this spot, I had a recurrent that I should travel to the fields of Spain and look for a ruined church, where shepherds and their sheep slept. In my dream there was a sycamore growing in the sacristy ad I was told that if I dug the roots of the sycamore I would find a hidden treasure. But I’m not so stupid to cross the desert just because of a dream” And they left. The boy laughed and his heart was bursting with joy for he knew where his treasure was.

In addition to the stories very stunning climax of the boy’s search of his treasure, he was also able to get his real treasure where he started. His Personal Legend was not to get the hidden treasure but rather, to understand the Language and the soul of the world, to pursue his dream to travel, to meet the gypsy lady, to meet the king, to help the candy seller and the crystal merchant, to meet the camel driver, to be friends with the Englishman, to travel with the alchemist, to fell in love with Fatima and of course to know where his hidden treasure really is.

For all intents and purposes, the theme of the novel is the realization of one’s Personal Legend. It might have been conspicuous that all of the characters in the novel have their own Personal legends but many of them were not perseverant to fulfill their own legends, and rather they just did what was easy to do. Such as the baker who once wanted to travel but then thought it was hard to do, so he chose to be a baker, the crystal merchant who dreamt of going to Mecca but didn’t do it, for it takes time to do it and no one will be there to operate his crystal shop. And most especially is the leader of Santiago’s attackers in the pyramids, for he dreamt of the same thing as Santiago’s, but he never had the willpower to fulfill his dream thinking that it was stupidity. But then again, all of them conspired to help Santiago to fulfill and to put his dream into reality and to be able to realize his own Personal Legend.

In addition to that the novel’s theme is to understand the Language and the soul of the world. To understand that everything that happens around was correlated with every person’s mind and Soul. And to understand that all of the lifeless and living creatures in the universe have a single Language that connects each individual to another.

To bring this to an end, Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” was a very astounding and straightforward novel, worth reading and gives a great impact to appreciative and effective readers who are willing to take time for reading. This novel is worthy to be recommended. It is very appealing to almost everyone who reads it and leads the readers to attaining their own Personal Legends and urges almost everyone to follow their dreams and be persistent in reaching their goals.

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