"Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of travelling the world in search of a worldly treasure as fabulous as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers, and from there into the Egyptian desert, where a fateful encounter with the alchemist awaits him."
Disconcertingly, despite having had both an English and a French copy of The Alchemist on my bookshelf for a number of years, I could not actually remember if I had read this story before or not. The reason for this is perhaps as follows: upon (re)reading it, I found that Coelho's poetic strengths as found in Eleven Minutes are not as obvious here. The author's strengths are in setting and detail, and then, to an extent, character, rather than in plot - the whole of The Alchemist just seems a bit thin, and takes on the manner of a children's story, rather than being in the style of a spiritual book for adults. While that's a good thing, in a way, if it makes the story more accessible to a wider range of people, it could have easily done with extra padding and extension.
The Alchemist is ultimately a sweet and sentimental fairytale that lacks concrete relevance to our own lives - in the end, it contains nothing that we can apply directly. More development, as mentioned, is certainly required overall, especially when it comes to explanations of some of Coelho's concepts, such as The Soul of the World. The story does contain some pleasing and thoughtful maxims, but it does perhaps depend on the reader as to whether they are happier with this than with something more directly advisory. This is perhaps exemplified by the fact that after the number of five-star ratings for this book on Amazon (184), the next highest number of ratings is actually in the one-star category (where there are 62).
It is fitting that the protagonist ends up back where he started, and this endows the book with a satisfying and cyclical appeal. Ironically, even though this is Coelho's best-selling work, I did not find it to be the best of his oeuvre; go elsewhere for something more inspiring and less woolly.
Other works by Paulo Coelho
The Manifest of Krig-Ha (1974)
Theatre of Education (1974)
Hell Archives (1982)
Practical Manual of Vampirism (1986)
The Pilgrimage (1987)
The Greatest Gift (1991)
The Valkyries (1992)
By the River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept (1994)
The Fifth Mountain (1996)
Love Letters From A Prophet (1997)
The Manual of the Warrior of Light (1997)
Veronika Decides To Die (1998)
Essential Words (1998)
The Devil and Miss Prym (2000)
Fathers, Sons and Grandsons (2001)
Eleven Minutes (2003)
And On The Seventh Day (2004)
The Genie and the Roses (2004)
The Zahir (2005)
Revived Paths (2005)
Like The Flowing River (2006)
The Witch of Portobello (2006)
Life: Selected Quotations (2007)
The Winner Stands Alone (2008)
The Aleph (2011)