Paulo Coelho bestseller – book summary and best nuggets from The Alchemist
Classical literature or self-improvement guide? Portuguese novel or international writing? Defying cultural paradigms, through his allegorical novel – The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho brings in the front line the most disturbing and challenging topic that concern humanity: destiny.
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS / THE ALCHEMIST
Our road, our destiny is the endless search for happiness.
Because The Alchemist is definitely a MUST READ, I will summarize below the main concepts and I will try to point out each idea through 10 concepts from the best nuggets of this book. I bet you will find Coelho’s book not only a captivating reading, but also an invitation to introspection.
- The concept: The wisdom of simplicity.
“The simplest things in life are the most extraordinary and that only wise man are able to understand them”.
Santiago is a young shepherd who enjoys the freedom of traveling with his sheep from place to place. While sleeping in a ruined church that had a sycamore tree growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, he has a recurrent dream. A child shows him a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids and he decides to go to a gypsy woman to interpret his dream. For a tenth of his treasure she foretells that he should go to the Pyramids and there he shall find the treasure. Disappointed by the simple interpretation, Santiago leaves just as the gypsy woman advises him that “the simplest things in life are the most extraordinary and that only wise man are able to understand them”.
- The concept: The inevitability of fate
“That at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate”.
The boy goes back to his life, trying to forget about the dream. He sits on a bench in the plaza and reads a new book. An old man dressed like an Arab sits down at his side and starts a conversation. Already irritated, he tries to get rid of the old man, when something unexpected happens: the old man tells him the book he is reading says one of the greatest lies in the world “that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate”.
- The concept: The soul of the universe
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
He presents himself as Melchizedek from Salem and he allures the boy with the following proposal: a tenth of his sheep for telling him how to find the hidden treasure. He wants to help the boy because he has succeeded in discovering his Personal Legend, meaning that which he had always wanted to accomplish. And when someone really wants something it’s because it originated in the soul of the universe.
Santiago finds himself at a crossroad: he can go back to his life as a shepherd on the hills of Andalusia or….go on a search for a hidden treasure. So, here he is, between his flock and his treasure, having to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have. The levanter is blowing stronger on his face and the wind brings along the Moors, the smell of desert and veiled women. A new desire rises inside him. The search for the unknown, for gold and for adventure appeals to Santiago and if things don’t work out, he can always go back to being a shepherd. So he accepts Melchizedek’s proposal.
The old man tells him to go to the Pyramids in Egypt and always follow the omens. For God has a path prepared for everyone, we just have to read the signs He left. Then, the old man opens his cape and shows the boy a breastplate of heavy gold, covered with precious stones. Melchizedek is actually the king of Salem and he gives Santiago a black and a white stone, to help him along his journey, when he can’t read the omens, “but, if you can, try to make your own decisions”.
- The concept: The crossroad of thinking
“He realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. “
The boat trip to Africa only takes two hours and now the boy finds himself sitting in a bar on the narrow streets of Tangier. He is looking for a guide who can lead him to the Pyramids. He meets a young man who speaks Spanish and foolishly trustworthy gives him the money to buy camels and food for the trip. On the way through the market, his guide mysteriously disappears. All this happens between sunrise and sunset. Before noon he was a shepherd with a flock of sheep in Andalusia Spain and now here he is completely alone, without money in a strange city in Africa. And because he is far and away, he falls down on his knees and begins weeping. Feeling a little relieved, Santiago remembers about the stones, Urim and Thummim and his confidence slowly rises. He is once again at a new crossroad: to think of himself as a victim of a thief or an adventurer in quest of his treasure. As soon as he decides he is an adventurer looking for treasure, he knows what to do next.
- The concept: The power of a dream
“When someone makes a decision, he is really driving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision”
Santiago starts working for a crystal merchant cleaning all the crystal in his shop. He is determined to work until he has enough money to get back home and buy some sheep. He seizes various opportunities to increase the crystal business and even though the merchant is reluctant to his ideas, he lets the boy have his way and business starts improving following the favorability principle or beginner’s luck; because life wants you to achieve your Personal Legend, it whets your appetite with a taste of success.
The merchant can’t understand why the boy is so eager for change. Why can’t he just let things be the way they are? Sure, he used to dream about going to Mecca, but he knew that would remain a dream. Not everyone can see his dreams come true in the same way. The merchant prefers to dream about Mecca, for in dreaming there is no disappointment. Whereas the boy really wants to realize his dream. A year passes and Santiago has enough money to go back home and buy a flock of sheep, but the merchant knows the boy isn’t going to buy sheep, just as well as he knows he isn’t going Mecca. How does he know? Maktub – it is written (by the hand of Allah).
- The concept: The desert’s lesson
“The desert is so huge, and the horizon so distant, that they make a person feel small, and as if he should remain silent.”
Since he is already in Africa and he can always go back to Spain to be a shepherd, why not travel to the pyramids after all? So the boy joins a caravan that will cross the desert and here he meets an English man obsessed with alchemy. The English man is in search of his own treasure: the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. Only an alchemist can teach him how to transform any metal into gold and they say there is one Arab in the Al-Fayoum oasis that can do that. As they start their journey, Santiago remains silent, everyday more and more aware of the desert and its language. The boy learns that the world has a soul and whoever can understand that soul can also understand the language of all things. Because all things are one. When the caravan reaches the oasis, they hand over their weapons, for the oasis is a neutral place and a war has started between different tribes in the desert. The English man persuades Santiago to ask the locals about the Arab alchemist.
- The concept: The language of the heart
“He learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke – the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love.”
In search of this alchemist, the boy finds something he had never intended to find: a pair of dark eyes. He knows it is love and he can now understand the language that everyone on earth is capable of understanding in their heart. She recognized the same thing. Her name is Fatima and from that day on he always waits to speak to her at the well. He tells her about his quest for his treasure near the pyramids, but that no longer seems important now that he had found her. Fatima, a woman of the desert, convinces him to pursue his dream and she will be waiting at the oasis. Santiago is sad and while looking at the sky, the Universe gives him a new sign, a vision of an army taking over the oasis. He explains his vision to the chieftains and this saves the oasis and the people living in it.
- The concept: The Arab alchemist
“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey”
His prognostication draws the attention of a certain Arab, the alchemist. The omens told him a boy would be coming and he would need his help. He is going to help Santiago and point him in the direction of his treasure. As they start crossing the desert, the alchemist speaks to the boy about hearts and how wherever his heart is, there he will find the treasure. He teaches him how to find life in the desert and how love never stops a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. The boy wants to know more about alchemy, so the alchemist tells him about the 3 types of alchemists: first type are the ones who try to evolve and find the Philosopher’s Stone because they understand that when something evolves, everything around it evolves; second type are the ones who stumble upon it because they already had the gift and their souls were ready for such things; the third type are the ones that are interested only in the gold and they will never find “the secret”.
- The concept: Like the wind
“Because it’s not love to be static like the desert, nor is it love to roam the world like the wind.”
At some point they meet with tribesmen are they are taken to the military camp to be judged by the chief, for they are believed to be spies. The Arab alchemist says he is just a guide for Santiago, who is the real alchemist and who can transform himself into the wind and destroy all the military camp with his force, should he chose so. The chief is intrigued and wants to see the foreigner manifest this power. He gives them 3 days for Santiago to manifest into the wind and if he fails, their heads are at stake.
The boy is scared to death because he doesn’t know how to transform into the wind. The alchemist advises him not to be afraid of failure and just learn how to be the wind. He spends both days looking out over the desert. On the third day, everyone gathers to see him transform into the wind. The boy starts speaking to the desert about his love and asks him to help him get back to his beloved Fatima. The desert offers to give his sands for the wind to blow, but he cannot do it without the help of the wind. So the boy speaks to the wind, asking him for help. And the wind blows harder, raising the desert sands, but still he can’t transform the boy into wind. He suggests to ask heaven for help. The wind creates a sandstorm so that he blots out the sun and doesn’t blind the boy. The sun says he knows about love and begins to shine brighter. But still they cannot transform the boy into the wind.
They advise Santiago to speak with the hand that wrote it all. The universe falls silent, the boy begins to pray and a current of love rushes from his heart. The boy reached through to the Soul of the World, and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles. He transforms into the wind for all things are one and saves his life. The chief of the tribe allows them to leave.
- The concept: The treasure
“He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have”
The Arab alchemist accompanies Santiago to a monastery and shows him how he transforms lead in gold. He separates a disk of gold into 4 pieces: one for him, one for the boy, one for the monastery and one for the monk to keep for the boy if he ever needs it.
Santiago continues his journey alone and reaches the pyramids, where he sees a scarab beetle scuttling through the sand. He interprets this as a sign and starts to dig for the treasure. He digs until nightfall but finds nothing. While he is digging, several figures approach him. They are refugees from the tribal wars and they need money. They draw him out of the hole, search his bag and find his gold piece. Then they beat him to give them the rest of the gold that is probably hidden in the ground. Nearly unconscious, the boy tells them about his dream and that he is digging for his treasure. All men start laughing.
Before leaving, their leader tells him about a recurrent dream he had two years ago, right in the spot where Santiago is laying now. He dreams about a ruined church in Spain where shepherds and their sheep slept. There was a sycamore growing in the ruins of the sacristy and if he dug at its roots, he would find a secret treasure. Yet, he is not so stupid as to cross an entire desert for a recurrent dream. The boy looks at the pyramids and they seem to laugh at him, for he now knows where his treasure is.
He goes back to the monastery to take the forth piece of gold the Arab alchemist left for him and then travels back to Spain. He finds a chest of Spanish gold coins at the roots of the sycamore tree, right where he had the dream two years ago. Life really is generous to those who pursue their Personal Legend. The levanter begins to blow and it brings the scent of a perfume he knows well. Santiago is already on his way back to her….
In 1987 Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist in only two weeks. The story was already written in his soul – he said.
This will be the feeling that you will probably may have during reading this book. You’ll have the strange but pleasant sensation that you are not reading it with your eyes. That you are reading it more with your heart.
The hope and the boldness will guide your mind through a whole new perspective over the life, over dreaming to achieve what you really want for yourself.
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