Personal Legends and Santiago’s Sheep: The Alchemist Book Review

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” — Paolo Coelho in “The Alchemist”

With beautifully written prose, a simple plot, and just a touch of magic, the enlightening novel “The Alchemist” has been astounding readers for the last two and a half decades. Originally published in 1988 by Brazilian novelist Paolo Coelho, the book is a perfect read for anyone looking for inspiration within a spellbinding story.

Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, is a semi-content young man leading his sheep through the unique landscape of Spain. While he loves what he does, a dream awakens his desire to do something more with his life and to actively seek out adventure. Armed with only courage and the hope that he is fulfilling his “Personal Legend,” he sells all of his sheep and embarks on a physical journey to the pyramids of Egypt. Despite the fact that Santiago’s journey is spiritual and symbolic in nature, Coehlo’s use of an actual adventure across the land brings the hardship and triumph of finding one’s destiny to life.

Along the way, Santiago stumbles upon several interesting characters, each of which influences the young boy in some profound manner and serves as a generalization of some facet of humanity. He first comes across a mysterious old man who says he is a King. Dressed strangely but intelligent and well spoken, this man serves as a catalyst to Santiago’s journey and symbolizes the special type of person who encourages others to reach their potential. Santiago also spends a few weeks working for a dejected crystal merchant with a barely-surviving business. While this man helps Santiago discover what he needs to do to move on, the merchant himself is the melancholy example of someone who never went after his Personal Legend. Coehlo’s most disappointing character is Fatima, the love of Santiago’s life and the only significant female in the novel. Fatima herself does not have a Personal Legend, and her only purpose in the book is waiting in the desert for Santiago to return.

Although quite unrealistic, “The Alchemist” is a pivotal story perfect for the college student searching for their life purpose. Because it is written in a clear style with uncomplicated language, it seems more like a fun fairytale than a deep philosophical read and will have readers quickly turning the page. Additionally, the novel itself is the embodiment of a Personal Legend, as Paolo Coelho always wanted to be a writer but was talked into law school by his parents. After overcoming numerous obstacles and other life experiences, Coelho finally conspired to write the novel that he felt the universe needed him to. “The Alchemist” was an instant hit and is currently published in over 80 different languages. One of the best parts of this intriguing novel is that Santiago’s story bridges world cultures, immersing the reader in everything from Spanish shepherding techniques to “maktub,” an Arabic concept that doesn’t have an easy translation to the English language.

Ultimately, “The Alchemist” is one of those rare motivational novels that inspires deep thought and action and leaves the reader feeling hopeful and excited about the future. As Paolo Coehlo puts it, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” Join Santiago for this inspirational journey, and with this book, you may discover more about yourself while getting lost in the pages.

While I love math and science, writing for the newspaper gives my life balance and allows me to meet lots of great new people. I am a Chemical Engineering major and I am also involved in Alpha Phi Omega (APO) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). When I am free from my studies, I enjoy traveling with my family, jogging, and baking. If you have an article idea or know of an event or person on campus that should be featured, let me know!

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