STAFF PICK: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Narrator: Jeremy Irons

It is my shared Brazilian heritage with author, Paulo Coelho, which led me to his highly acclaimed novel, The Alchemist. This audiobook clocks in at just over four hours and despite its short listening time, I would not classify it as a light read. This novel took me longer than usual to finish, because unlike other audiobooks which I can listen to while multi-tasking, I had to devote my undivided attention to The Alchemist in order to fully appreciate it.

The protagonist in this novel is a young Spanish shepherd by the name of Santiago. Early on in the novel, he has a reoccurring dream about hidden treasure buried beneath the Egyptian pyramids.  Determined to find it, he sets out on a long voyage across the Mediterranean and Sahara. Along the way, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery; Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “life is a journey, not a destination” holds especially true throughout the trek. On his quest, he becomes rich in more ways than one as he acquires a plethora of knowledge from those he meets along the way.

The narration of this book was an adventure in and of itself, as Jeremy Irons brought each character to life using distinctive voices.  He used a confidant voice to portray the alchemist as powerful and intelligent, whereas Santiago came across as a free spirit due to the whimsical narration of his character.  Jeremy Irons achieved a perfect harmony between enriching the story and maintaining integrity throughout the narration.

I’ve wracked my brain trying to determine the most influential lesson from The Alchemist; however, it was impossible to choose just one, so I’ve narrowed it down to the top three:

  1. We are all on a journey; some of us know where we’re going and others have yet to figure it out – and that’s okay! As Coelho said “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation”. This discovery is not to be rushed; everyone works at their own pace. For some, this might only take a year, for others, it could take a lifetime. But one thing is for sure, once you’ve figured it out “…all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
  2. Fear is your biggest opponent. Coelho put it best when he said “tell your heart the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” When tackling any new challenge for the first time, it is inevitable that you will face uncertainty. This element of unknown can be frightening. However, sometimes it is necessary to step outside of your comfort zone to obtain worthwhile results.
  3. Never give up on your dreams. As cliché as it may sound, if Santiago had given up on his quest to find treasure, he may never have met his wife, or the alchemist.  Instead he learned “the secret of life… is to fall seven times and to get up eight times”. I think we can all demonstrate this resilience in various facets of our lives. Whether that be applying feedback to improve a poor grade in school, never giving up when the opposing team has the lead in a sports game or not letting career setbacks hold you back from achieving your dream job.

Both moving and thought provoking, it’s easy to see why The Alchemist is regarded as one of Coelho’s best literary works.  Not only is the novel is filled with powerful life lessons, but there is also an abundance of allusions, metaphors and symbols.  Can you spot them all?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, share your favorite quote or takeaway from The Alchemist below!

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