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The Search of Hope, Love and Knowledge, Book Review Example

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Book Review

“The Alchemist” is a novel of Paulo Coelho, a fable that should be read by adults. It tells the story of a young shepherd from Andalucía in Sapin whose name is Santiago. He sees a dream about some treasure and an old woman interprets his dream – he must go to the Pyramids in Egypt. Then he meets Melchizedek who encourages him to search for the treasure and follow the omens. But in Tangier Santiago is robbed and loses his enthusiasm. He has to work for one year in Crystal Merchant’s shop, where he decides to go on. He goes to desert in the caravan and meets Englishman that reads books instead of observing the life.  Englishman wants to meet the Alchemist, so they come to Al-Fayoum oasis. There Santiago falls in love with Fatima and envisions the future intrusion in the oasis and warns the elders. After the fight he is offered a position of counsel and wants to stay in the oasis, but the Alchemist says that he will lead Santiago to Pyramids. On their way to Pyramids they are imprisoned by warring tribe, and Santiago uses his knowledge about the Soul of the World to turn into wind. After that, not far from pyramids, Santiago is attacked by robbers one of whom tells him about his own dream about treasure. Santiago realizes that the treasure is in Spain. He returns in his country and finds the treasure, and intends to meet Fatima again.

The whole story is about one’s destiny and ability to follow it. Paulo Coelho said that the main things he wanted to convey in his book were “the personal legend, the language of signs, the soul of the world and the need to listen to one’s heart.” (UNESCO Courier) The first Santiago’s step on the way to his destiny was becoming a shepherd instead of priest because he wanted to travel. His father did his best – he allowed his son to become a shepherd and gave him some money. Since then, Santiago was taught by his sheep, by nature that surrounded him and by people he met. And when he came to Africa and was robbed, he realized that he could have lost himself in stagnation, as sheep could no longer teach him something new.

When he started his journey it was not a simple dream realizing. It was a conscious decision to follow the destiny, especially when it promised a treasure in the end. He wanted to live his life.

In his trip he learned a lot about world. He made inferences from each and every event, however small. He searched for omens that had to be his guiding lights. And he constantly gained experience and knowledge, but the main derivation from all his adventures was his perception of the world and inner happiness and self-satisfaction.

Why can’t we claim that the only thing Santiago gained was knowledge? Simple understanding of what’s going on is not enough. Crystal Merchant taught Santiago by his story and Santiago understood a very important thing that helped him to go forward and reach his goal. What Crystal Merchant had, was knowledge only – he knew perfectly well that he should go pilgrimage, but he did not do that – he said: “I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living” (Coelho, p.22). His knowledge did not give him power – instead, it weakened him, because he had no courage to follow his destiny and face the changes.

The Crystal Merchant taught Santiago that it’s wrong to put off something you have to do. He taught him that the change is vital for success (eNotes). Again, this idea is repeated in oasis when Santiago is offered a post of counsel. He had to go to Pyramids and lead a life of traveler, but he wanted to settle in oasis and live without his treasure.

So what was the treasure Santiago looked for? Was it a chest with money or something of greater good? The idea of following the destiny could not be reduced to simple money making. And the main thing Santiago found in the end of his journey was his feeling that the dream that seemed remote and vague came true; it was his understanding of the Soul of the World that he achieved through his adventures; it was also his new ability to listen to his heart and live according to its wishes; it was an undying hope that lived in his heart. The treasure he found is much deeper than money – it cannot be touched, but it can be felt through all the rest of the life.

One component of Santiago’s understanding of the world was his understanding of the world as the one thing. He came to this understanding through acquaintance with different cultures. He adopted some of their views and understood that all of the cultures are one.

Stephen Hart in his article “Cultural Hybridity, Magical Realism, and the Language of Magic in Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’” emphasizes this aspect. He links the cultural aspect of the novel with magical realism. The collision of Spanish culture and Muslim culture is shown in the light of magic in everyday life.

First, he notes that Santiago is associated with patron saint of Spain. And this Spanish boy goes to “the heart of Arabian culture, understood in a generic sense, through Morocco and on toward the Pyramids of Egypt” (Hart, p.311). And the first cultural intersection occurred when Santiago met Melchizedek, a high priest of the Old Testament who possessed the Urim and the Thummin – “the divinatory devices contained within the breastplate of judgment worn by the high priest described in the Book of Exodus 28.15” (Hart, p.311).

After that, he met Muslims who prayed in the street and thought that they were infidels. In one year, he came to love them just as any other citizens, because he learned to understand the language without words. Coelho said that he sees the world with Brazilian eyes. Hart explains that “his eyes are those of the hybrid in which there is no single, overriding monofocal vision of reality” (p.311), he defies narrow vision from the point of view of one religion, as he views culture as palimpsest in which different religions compete. In “The Alchemist” this idea is expressed in the existence of the Soul of the World and the fact that everything is one.

These are benefits of the culture itself. Another benefits were described above – by exploring different cultures, different lifestyles, one can find out that they share common ideas of what is good and what is bad, that general values do not change with centuries passing by and they don’t differ even if languages are different.

The positive side of culture that was shown in the book is its clarity and ability to regulate and govern human lives. We can see it when Muslims pray or when the Crystal Merchant claims that “The Koran requires me to feed a hungry person” (Coelho).

The negative side of culture that can be found in this novel is that people tend to judge people according to the fact that they belong to the same culture as them. Elders in Al-Fayoum were not enthusiastic about some stranger that predicted events in their oasis. So the main disadvantage of the culture itself is its tendency to unite people but to nurture some distrustfulness when it comes to representatives of other cultures.

Another thing that Santiago learned was his unique perception of love. In the course of the novel he loved two girls, but they were different and his love was different. When he understood that he loved Fatima, he wished to give up his search and live with Fatima. He was driven by the idea of romantic love that requires two lovers to together every moment, even if they have to give up something important to do that.

But what he had learned about following his destiny ran counter to his wishes. He wanted to settle and live in love, but the Alchemist told him that the real love would never object to the dream coming true. When Santiago said that he had found his treasure – a camel, his money from the crystal shop, fifty gold pieces from the elders, Fatima – The Alchemist said that none of that was from the Pyramids (Coelho). “You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World” (Coelho).  The real love would never require sacrifice of the dream, as it knows that their souls have the destiny to follow. And in the novel it was Fatima who represented this idea. She let him go and do whatever he wanted to.

The idea that Coelho conveyed is that everybody is free to follow one’s dreams, and then… “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” It is so exciting that the reader cannot believe it. But in the course of the novel one realizes that every idea that was put into words came into Santiago’s life and changed it for better. He got back all the money that he lost in Tangier by working with the Crystal Merchant. He understood the language of his heart. The idea of love that lets you follow your dream was embodied in Fatima that waited for him to come back.

This novel inspires. It tantalizes. It makes us think about our own lives. Santiago searched for his treasure, and found his love and invaluable knowledge about the world. He gained the skills that enabled him to succeed, and he realized that however high the price of the dream is, it is possible to pay it.

We may think that it is a fable and in real life everything is much more complicated. We may claim that Coelho catered to our wish to hear that our dreams cam come true. But deep in our mind we understand that all we have to do is dare – and then we will find our treasures, our love and our hope.

Works Cited

Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. Harper San Francisco, 2006.

Hart, Stephen M. “Cultural Hybridity, Magical Realism, and the Language of Magic in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist” Romance Quarterly. 51.4(2004): 304-312.

“Paul Coelho” UNESCO Courier. 51.3 (1998) “What lessons does Santiago learn by working for the crystal merchant?” eNotes.com 27 Jan. 2010 . 4 March 2010. <http://www.enotes.com/alchemist/q-and-a/what-lessons-does-santiago-learn-by-working-133493>

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