Cheat read: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Written 1988, Rio de Janeiro, Spiritual fiction
The rundown Santiago - "the boy" - is a shepherd in Andalucía. While sleeping under a sycamore tree in an abandoned church, he dreams of buried treasure with his name on it somewhere beneath the pyramids of Egypt.
A gypsy woman tells the boy that he must follow this dream as it is a prophecy. He is unwilling to easily give up his shepherding life, which he feels deeply rooted to, until he meets Melchizedek, an old man who proclaims to be King of Salem. He encourages the boy to follow his destiny and teaches him the importance of his "Personal Legend" and that "all the universe" will help him achieve his desires.
Santiago sells his flock and buys a ticket to Morocco but is forced to stay there after being robbed and left penniless. He gets a job with a crystal merchant, and after 11 prosperous months he decides to continue his journey and joins a caravan to Egypt
At an oasis, he falls in love with an Arab girl and meets the titular Alchemist who can turn any metal into gold. War prevents further travel but Santiago finds a way to proceed into the desert with the Alchemist's help.
Need to know Coelho's signature novel may have had its identity invaded by backpackers, gap-year students and the dreaded self-help brigade, but there was a time when The Alchemist was just a simple, multimillion-selling antiquity parable.
Coelho, who turns 69 on Wednesday, took years to forge a path in life, his major epiphany coming while walking the Camino de Santiago in 1986. Themes of journeying and destiny bedded into the Brazilian and he penned The Alchemist in a fortnight.
An initial print run of 900 in 1988 with a small publisher was nearly the height of the novel's prospects until a deal with HarperCollins for a subsequent title saw The Alchemist reprinted and cast out into the wider world. Coelho's second novel went on to touch tens of millions people with its gentle wisdom and stripped-down, distilled prose, and continues to do so.
The end The boy finally reaches the pyramids of Egypt but gets assaulted and robbed by a gang of ne'er-do-wells who leave him for dead. One of the robbers stays behind, however, and reveals to the boy that he also had a dream about buried treasure waiting for him under a sycamore tree by an abandoned church. The penny immediately drops for Santiago and he returns to Andalucía, back to the same tree the thief saw in his dream, the one so familiar to the boy. He digs below it and discovers his treasure, waiting for him right back where he started.
The verdict Sixty-five million readers across 80 languages speaks for itself. A tidy and soothing fable containing forgotten universal truths - everyone should read it.
did you know? Coelho won't start a book until he finds a white feather, a tradition he began back in 1987 with his first book The Pilgrimage. Asked what happens if he has a good idea but can't find a feather, Coelho said: "It has nothing to do with the contents of the book, it has to do with the book itself."
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