The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Mommy and Me Book Club)

Thanks for joining my “Mommy and Me” Book Club. I hope you’re enjoying my ongoing “stay in bed and read” series.

Title:  The Alchemist (2014)

Author:  Paulo Coehlo

Page No.:  208 pages

Publisher:  HarperOne; Anniversary edition

Price:  $10.19 (paperback)

Genres: fiction; fantasy

Summary – Part One (Section 1-4):

Santiago, our protagonist is an inquisitive and restless Andalusian shepherd boy with stirrings in his heart. He has spent the last two years leading his sheep through the Spanish countryside in search of food and water. (Formerly, Santiago attended seminary until he was sixteen years old, but against his family’s wishes, he left to become a shepherd.) He’s happy in his life as a shepherd, but his heart still aches to travel the world.

Santiago’s reoccurring dream profoundly affects him. He wonders if he should remain a shepherd boy or leave his home and start his life anew. Santiago reluctantly consults a gypsy woman, a known dream interpreter, who encourages him to follow the instructions of his dream. Later, Santiago meets a mysterious old man, Melchizedek or the King of Salem, who confirms it’s a shepherd boy’s duty to pursue his dream. According to the old man, the whole universe will conspire to make our dream come true. (That’s what the universe wants for us!) The old man claims there are good and bad omens scattered across our life path and leaves Santiago with a parting gift, two stones – Urim and Thummim, with which to interpret the omens.

Santiago sells his flock and uses the money to buy a ticket to Tangier, a port city in northern Africa. He’s one step closer to achieving his dream. However, soon after arriving, a thief steals all of Santiago’s money.  Is that a bad omen? A dejected Santiago looks for a way to make enough money to go back home. He finds a job working for a crystal merchant and makes considerable improvements to the business which reap great financial rewards.

Summary – Part Two (Sections 5-13):

After eleven months in the crystal merchant’s employ, Santiago recoups his financial losses. He’s now a rich man. Is that a good omen? Santiago wonders: should he return home a rich man and buy more sheep or venture to the Egyptian pyramids? He decides to join a caravan to Egypt.

He meets an Englishman who wants to learn the art of alchemy, or transforming metal into gold, from a famous alchemist who lives in an oasis on the way to the pyramids. While the Englishman studies his books, Santiago studies the desert. He begins to discover the “Soul of the World”, or the universal language that binds everyone and everything together. (For an interesting read, see Esperanto.)

When the caravan reaches the oasis, the caravan leaders says the travelers can’t continue their journey because there’s a tribal war in the desert. Consequently, the travelers are detained in the oasis. Santiago meets Fatima, a beautiful Arab woman, and instantly falls in love. He considers staying in the oasis forever, but Fatima encourages him “to go with the wind”.

Santiago leaves the oasis and wanders into the desert. He notices two hawks fighting in the sky and envisions an army entering the oasis. (Attacking the oasis is a violation of desert rules.) Santiago shares his vision with the tribal chieftain who ensures his men are armed and well-prepared when the oasis is attacked.

As a result of Santiago’s vision, the alchemist takes notice of him and offers to accompany Santiago across the Sahara. One of the most dramatic images in the novel is of the two men meeting. The alchemist, a veiled stranger with a sword in hand, wears all black and sits atop a white horse.

Santiago and the alchemist enter an area of tribal warfare. Warriors hold the two men captive, but eventually allow them to continue their journey. The alchemist must return to the oasis and leaves Santiago alone to make the rest of the trip alone.

When Santiago arrives at the Egyptian pyramids, he starts to dig but finds no treasure. Instead Santiago is beaten by thieves and robbed of all his money. One of the thieves recounts his own dream of buried treasure at an old, abandoned church sacristy.

The book ends where it began. Santiago returns to Andalusia and the church where he first dreamt of finding treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. He digs beneath the sycamore tree and finds his treasure. Wherever your heart is, your treasure is.

Quotable Quotes:

On Dreams

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

On Failure

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

On Judgment

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

On Love

“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.”

On Power

“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”

On Soulmates

“So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.”

Worth Staying Up Late For (after the kids have gone to bed?): 

  • Yes, Stay Up Late!
  • Maybe, But See What’s on TV First.
  • No, Go to Bed!

Hop in bed and turn on your ceiling fan. Imagine the breeze is the symbolic levanter from the book. While you read, listen to your heart my fellow Warriors of Light. Don’t be afraid to go where the wind, or levanter, blows you. It will make you happy. The biggest lie is that fate controls our lives more than we do.

I end this post with a quote, from Section 1, that resonated with me and left a twinge in my heart.

“The boy could see in his father’s gaze a desire to be able, himself, to travel the world – a desire that was still alive, despite his father’s having had to bury it, over dozens of years, under the burden of struggling for water to drink, food to eat, and the same place to sleep every night of his life.”

I don’t want to be like Santiago’s father. I don’t want my grown children to see a faded desire in my weary eyes. Just because you’re a mom or dad, doesn’t mean you can’t follow your heart’s desire. Yes, money, e.g. “the burden of struggling for water to drink, food to eat, and the same place to sleep”, can undoubtedly get in the way of achieving your dream. But the most important and urgent thing in life is to go in pursuit of your Personal Legend. And what do I always say? A happy mom (or dad) equals a happy baby!

What’s your Personal Legend, or dream/higher purpose in life? Who are your Melchizedeks or alchemists, e.g. the people who have transformed you into pure gold?

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