Fiction; HarperCollins Publishers India; 177 pages; translated from Portuguese by Alan R. Clark
My rating - 1.5/5
The outstanding sales of the book (over 20 million, according to the publisher's blurb) made me interested in The Alchemist. Google search revealed the summary, which was not bad; and the book cover, which was impressive.
But after finishing the novel I found it to be utterly nonsensical. This is a fiction novel bordering on, and many times even crossing into, the fantasy genre which seem to be a construct of a confused and scattered mind. (In his early age, Coelho was put into a mental asylum thrice, by the way.)
Rules of reality are sometimes obeyed, sometimes bent, and sometimes broken without any explanations as to how and why that is being done.
Summary of The Alchemist
Santiago, the protagonist, is a shepherd in the Andalusian part of Spain who is a traveler presently taking shelter in a ruined church. He has a recurring dream, authenticated to be true by a gypsy, that he will find a treasure in the pyramids of Egypt.
The king of Salem (and we are not told where on earth this Salem is), offers him his help because Santiago has discovered his destiny and he was unaffected by the "mysterious force" that convinces people to not to discover it.
The king says when someone really wants something it's because the desire originated in the "soul of the universe". Perhaps the line (very absurd, by the way) which has become most famous is:
When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
This sentence, like some others, is unnecessarily repeated again and again in the book. (The Bollywood movie Om Shanti Om used the above line several times in the movie without any reference to Coelho.)
Santiago loses his skepticism after the king proves his wisdom by telling him his private secrets and embarks on the treasure hunt after selling away all his sheep, taking careful notes of all the omens that the king said will lead his path.
But when Santiago gets robbed off of all his money in Tangier, he has to do a job in a crystal shop and gives away all aspirations of the treasure. The way he works and helps the shop owner to take his shop to new heights is the only part of the novel which rings real.
After an year, he manages to collect a good sum of money and decides to restart the treasure search not only because an omen tells him so but also because two stones transmit "to him the strength and will of the old king."
He travels along with a caravan and befriends a 200 year old alchemist on his way who helps him in his treasure hunt. But on their way they are caught by tribesmen under the suspicion of spying and are threatened with death.
But surprise, surprise.
Santiago talks to the desert and the desert informs him to address the wind and the wind commissions him to request the heaven and so he pleads to the sun and the sun directs him to the "hand that wrote all", and so he ends up praying to the "hand that wrote all" to turn him into wind! And he really turns himself into wind then back into human and in the process discovers the "language of the desert and the wind" and the "Soul of the World" and hence the tribesmen let him go.