Critique of The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. – (Alchemist)

Do we ever dream? Do we ever wonder about life and its purpose? Do we ask ourselves the question; “Am I in harmony with the ‘self’ in me”? Or are these questions far too deep for our busy lives and we pretend to forget about their importance?

Paulo Coelho’s best seller The Alchemist is a manifesto for today’s dreamers;  he advocates the courage of believing in one’s dream; he teaches that  the person’s dream  is the person’s destiny, and negation of one’s dream is a renunciation to pursue one’s destiny. And if the sale of the book is a sign of the relevance to the public of the questions raised by the book; then Paulo Coelho has managed to voice out a vastly felt desire for giving more space to dreams in a world that seems only catered to measurable realistic gains.

No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it. – (Alchemist)

The Author

Paulo Coelho was born in 1947 into a middle-class family, the son of Pedro, an engineer, and Lygia, a housewife.

As it happens in most of the cases; Paulo’s parents had very different plans for their son’s future. They wanted him to be an engineer and tried to stifle his desires to devote himself to literature. Their intransigence and his discovery of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer aroused Paulo’s spirit of rebellion, and he began routinely to flout the family rules routinely. His father took this behaviour as a sign of mental illness and, when Paulo was seventeen, he twice had him admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where Paulo underwent several sessions of electroconvulsive therapy.

Shortly after this, Paulo became involved with a theatre group and began working as a journalist. In the eyes of the comfortably-off middle class Christian family in Brazil of that time, the theatre was a hotbed of lose immorality. His frightened parents decided to break their promise not to confine him again and had him readmitted to hospital for the third time. When he came out, Paulo was even more lost and more enclosed in his own private world. In despair, the family called in another doctor who told them: Paulo isn’t mad and he shouldn’t be in a psychiatric hospital. He simply has to learn how to face up to life.

After this period, Paulo returned to his studies and it looked as if he was finally going to follow the route his parents had prepared for him. But unluckily for the parents, this period happened to be in the sixties, and the hippie movement had exploded onto the world scene. These new trends took root even in Brazil. Paulo wore his hair long and made a point of never carrying his identity card; for a time, he took drugs, wanting to live the hippie experience to the full. His passion for writing drove him to start a magazine, of which only two issues were ever published.

Around this time, the musician and composer, Raul Seixas invited Paulo to write the words of his songs. Their second record was a huge success and sold more than 500,000 copies. This was the first time Paulo had earned a large amount of money.

In the midst of the ‘70s Paulo decided that he had had enough experience of ‘life’ and wanted to be ‘normal’. He got a job at the record company, PolyGram, where he met the woman who would later become his wife. But this didn’t last for a very long period of time. But, as we could imagine, fix jobs were not for him.

In 1987 Paulo wrote his first book, The Pilgrimage. He then wrote The Alchemist in 1988.

He is now a renowned book writer but he also writes for various newspapers.

Paulo and his wife Christina now live in between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and in Tarbes, France.

The Book

The Alchemist was first published in Brazil in 1988. This, for Paulo, was a highly symbolic book; a metaphor of life, which reflected his eleven years, spent studying alchemy. The first edition sold only 900 copies, and the publishing house decided not to reprint. The second print was by Rocco, a bigger publishing house.

The Alchemist became known after the release of Coelho’s book Brida. The publication of this book received plenty of press attention and took The Alchemist to the top of the bestseller lists. The Alchemist went on to sell more copies than any other book in the history of Brazil, and even made it into the Guinness Book of Records. In May 1993, HarperCollins published 50,000 copies of The Alchemist, which was the largest ever initial print run of a Brazilian book in the United States.

It is said that The Alchemist draws largely from Barge’s Tale of two dreamers.

Various theatre companies have seen the great dramatic and poetic potential of The Alchemist. The work has been adapted and produced on all five continents in various theatrical forms: musicals, dance theatre, puppets, dramatised readings and opera.

Warner Brothers acquired movie rights to The Alchemist in 1996 and a motion picture version is in development with Robert Schwartz & Stephen Storer producing.

The Alchemist has received several international awards. It has been published in 150 countries in 61 languages and sold over 50 million copies. The book appeals to a large reading audience, regardless of their age, cultural or religious background.

The Book’s Message

No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. – (Alchemist)

The desert takes our dreams away from us, and they don’t always return. We know that, and we are used to it. Those who don’t return become a part of the clouds, a part of the animals that hide in the ravines and of the water that comes from the earth. They become part of everything… They become the soul of the world. – (Alchemist)

Everything is one. – (Alchemist)

The soul of the world: the One. Everything we see, we feel, real and unreal, our consciousness our soul, they are all one and the purpose of our lives is to be one with the One. This is the message which I feel the author wants to give. This concept is very interesting as it can be related to the Indian Philosophy, where the One, the Spirit Supreme, is the Brahman.

Brahman is pure Consciousness, pure Love. It is this exactly what Coelho wants to say, that the language of the world lies in Pure Love. Pure Love is pure joy, is creation and is infinite.

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy confides to the alchemist one night as they look up at a moonless night. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself” said the alchemist. – (Alchemist)

The author believes that each one of us has a dream given to us by God and He gives us clues times again and again so that we recognize those clues( ‘omens’ as he calls them) and follow these dreams with great zeal. “Never give up!” Coelho says. Each one of us has a destiny. To discover these destinies and then follow them is the purpose of our lives. Difficult will be the challenges of the unknown, but what is easy is not eternal, it’s finite and the unknown is infinite.

People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want. We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same Hand. – (Alchemist)

Coelho believes that the heart is the origin of Pure Love. Whatever the heart says, weather explicitly or implicitly, leads us to Pure Love, pure joy. He also believes the mind can also be a source of joy, creativity and adventure, thus infinite. But contrary to the heart, Coelho says, the mind is also rational and worldly which can evoke fear in us. Now the fear emotions given by the mind are more imminent to us; so the fear of ‘being our selves’ dominates on our hearts as obstructing chains. For the following reason Coelho believes that the heart and the mind are two different identities which are not usually in harmony with each other, but rather they disagree with each other.

Love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. – (Alchemist)

Life really is generous to those who pursue their destiny. – (Alchemist)

If I am really part of your dream, you will come back one day. – (Alchemist)

The author believes in destiny, that everything is written. Maktub he says. Maktub is an Arabic word which has a similar meaning to what in English is ’everything is written’. But where it is written nobody knows. He emphasises a lot on this issue, as if to convince the reader not to be scared of the unknown because the unknown is already known somewhere else, it’s Maktub.

These are the two messages which have struck me the most and, according to me, around which the story revolves.

Literary Critics

A simple and great fairytale that brings forth the greatest questions in life. – (Lasse Anrell, Aftonbladet, Sweden)

Somewhat of a literary pop star, Coelho has been inundated with praise from
everyday folk from France to Fiji. – (Publishers Weekly, USA)

A wonderful tale, a metaphor of life. – (Massimo D’Alema, Former Italian Prime Minister)

“The Alchemist”, is an exciting novel that bursts with optimism; it is the kind of novel that tells you that everything is possible as long as you really want it to happen. That may sound like an oversimplified version of new-age philosophy and mysticism, but as Coelho states ‘simple things are the most valuable and only wise people appreciate them’. The novel appeals to everybody, because we can all identify our selves with Santiago: all of us have dreams, and are dying for somebody to tell us that they may come true.

The book has been written in a very poetic style. The words flow like a petal of a flower being gently whispered away by the wind. It is a book which seduces you to keep reading it. Will the boy find his treasure? Will he give up his dream, his destiny? The suspense and the ‘unknown’ is well done, it gets you glued to the book.

While reading the book I could really feel my emotions going wild. The book uplifts you from your world into the book’s one in a very soft and mysterious way, like a girl’s seduction. So easily we now belong to the book! To the girl!

The scenography which we encounter in the story is mystical, as if it is always covered with few grains of sand. Many are the aromas which tickle our noses but the aromas of the east are the ones which seduce us the most. Many have been the travels between the west and the east, and each of them amuses us, like this one. There is always been an exploration of these two worlds by their people. Maybe because these cultures are different from each other but have with similar roots. So people get attracted to the other culture unknowingly.

The book encloses various words of wisdom from the past. The interesting thing is that it embraces Arabic and Indian philosophies with a Christian flavor to it. We can see the Arabic philosophy in Maktub and the Indian philosophy in The Soul of the World, the One; the Brahman. The Christian flavor is felt along the entire book’s journey: in the way of describing the ambience and in the importance of Love

It was the first time I was going through a text with did not have chapters, it was very interesting the way different sequences in the story were distinguished with each other by a simple star (*) or even without it.

People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. – (Alchemist)

The book is a simple story of a simple shepherd boy who has a dream and the courage to follow it. The novel skillfully combines words of wisdom, philosophy, and simplicity of meaning and language, which makes it particularly readable and accounts for its bestselling status. Perhaps this is the secret of Coelho’s success: that he tells people what they want to hear, or rather that he tells them that what they wish for but never thought possible.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho is a book for those who have lost the dream or never had it. It’s a book targeted to our world of lost wisdom; for a world in which temporary joy prevails pure joy. It is for the youth which has forgotten to question itself; for the middle-age men who in their busy day have forgotten their real identity and their dreams. It is a book for the people who are not in harmony with the self in them, because they don’t follow the person they want to be but the person others want them to be.

Philosophical Critics

The philosophical issues taken up by Coelho are very deep and important to our society, they are the ones we pretend or we have actually forgotten. We live in a society which in this world of Globalization is forgetting it’s own culture and all of us are starting to have an unique culture, the American one. We are ‘in a time when there is much on the window but nothing in the room’ as Dalai Lama says. It is to this society that Coelho reminds of Dreams, of Destiny, of Courage, of Joy, of Love, of the Harmony with the Self and of Adventure.

As I’ve mentioned previously, his two main philosophical messages are the discovery of the One and Maktub. There may come a point in the book where we may think that the author contradicts itself. This happens where he gives us the two following ideas:

  • We should follow our dreams and discover the self in us


  • Maktub, everything is written

We can start asking: if everything is written then it should be written that I will find the self in me? If it is so, why taking so much trouble to follow our dreams?

In such a problem I would say that the two messages given by Coelho do not contradict each other. Each man is different, and only to those men who have the strength, the courage to follow their dreams, is written that they will find the self in them.

It is also interesting to see Santiago finding his soul-mate and the secrets of wisdom in the wilderness of the desert. The “wilderness” is a symbol of the unknown which has been used by many great writers e.g. Austen in “Mansfield Park”, and Shakespeare in “King Lear”. In the desert, Santiago meets his “twin-soul” and discovers that love is the core of existence and creation. As Coelho explains ‘when we love, we always try to improve ourselves, and that’s when everything is possible’.

An other interesting thing is the way Coelho portrays a person who denies following his dream as a person who denies seeing God, which is evidenced in every happy person carries God within him”. However, only few people choose to follow the road that has been made for them, and find God and their reason of being while discovering their destiny.

Paulo portrays the heart and the mind as organs which are usually not in harmony with each other. That the heart always leads to ones destiny but the mind may not always lead you; but either of them can lead you.

I am contrary with this opinion. I believe that the mind and the heart are two different organs part of an unique identity. They can not exist without each other and are usually in harmony with each other. Our action comes from the merging of the opinions of the two organs. If the two clash it not because of one’s opinion being contrary to the other but because of the one’s misunderstanding of the other’s opinions. I also believe that it is not with one of these organs with which we can discover our selves, that is discover the One, but with the two organ’s union.

Finally I would like to say that the book portrays a philosophy of unity and liberty, which it shows in how there exists a Language of the World. The problem is that this philosophy doesn’t keep itself coherent; it tends to contradict itself in romanticism and immature idealism.

Like it often happens, and we blast laughing on it, it occurred in the book too. From where we start there we end. In the book’s case, what we were looking for was near us, or as the books message would say ‘inside us’, but we never realize it. We never realize the worth of what we have but we always see more worth in things which we don’t have.

The story, after opening the questions of philosophy such as: What is destiny? How can we discover our selves? How can we discover the One? Why are we born? Starts resolving these problems far too easily: taking the help of romanticism and magic. By generosity and fate miracles happen to us; this is a message which we get by the book. This way of resolving issues, in miraculous events, transforms the book from reality to a fable. Thus we start valuing less the author’s message. In most parts of the book our imagination sees ourselves as Santiago (the main character in the story), his problems, his fears and his desires are the ones we also feel and we start believing that what happens to him in his life can happen to us in ours. This feeling lasts only until the author starts resolving Santiago’s problems with unexplainable magic, because we know that magic doesn’t happen, so what Santiago is living can never be lived by us. From this point on the book drags itself, it feels as if the story is continuing just to finish in a happy ending.

This is, I believe, the biggest drawback of the book; it opens our eyes to these questions but as they start opening the books starts shutting them again, by involving magic.


At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fates. That’s the world’s greatest lie. Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it – (Alchemist)

The book is very pleasurable and captivating for the heart. All it’s aromas, it’s panoramas, it’s mysteries and mysticism, and all those questions which struck directly to our souls.

I was captured and absorbed into the tale and found myself relating to the fears of Santiago. I could feel my emotions; they were pleasant as well as exited while I was knocked by the book’s messages: following your dreams, listening to your heart, trusting, loving and learning to let fears vanish so life can blossom with all it’s beauty.

Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there. Wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say – (Alchemist)

I believe that Coelho’s The Alchemist is a ‘good read’ if you are intellectual and a ‘must read’ if u r not.

I would like to end up by few ideas which I’ve understood from the book. ‘Always believe in the person you are’. ‘Always be the person YOU want to be and not the person that others want you to be and remember worth what you have because the treasure lies in you.’

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12 Responses to Critique of The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

  1. Hadeel says:

    This is very well composed.

  2. Titus says:

    Superb post but I was wanting to know if you could write
    a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Bless you!

  3. aftonbladet says:

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  4. I’m going to cite your review on my blog because I couldn’t phrase it better myself. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho | James' reading list

  6. Pendo says:

    Thank you! I was happy to discover this site. Nicely put, articulated my thoughts best.

  7. hyiltiz says:

    So beauriful and thourough

  8. about ” the language of nature” … its true bro so much like i face it all the time. let me give you an eg. . few min back i was with one of my cousins talking about a political leader. my cousin said ” he speaks what everyone want to hear..” and exactly same lines that i have read just now after i have returned. its the language of the world its connecting to me and may be to all of us every time. try to feel yourself.

  9. shiva says:

    Everyone want to know their tressure. otherwise life not will be fulfill. so everyone should know their tressure. I read this novel and i knew my tressure……………………….

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