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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Summary, Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Sharon Linde
The bestselling novel, ''The Alchemist'', is often referred to as a must-read. What makes this book so special? Read on for a summary of the book, an introduction to its complex characters and some of the novel's most important quotes.

Overview of The Alchemist

Have you ever had a dream so real it made you want to act on it? In Paulo Coelho's, The Alchemist, published in 1988, Santiago, a young male shepherd, dreams of discovering treasure in far off Egypt. Let's take a closer look at this complicated plot.

Author Paulo Coelho
p coelho

Santiago's Dream

In The Alchemist, whenever Santiago falls asleep under a sycamore tree located near an abandoned church in Spain, he has a recurring dream: he will find treasure if he travels to the pyramids in Egypt. Upon the advice of a gypsy woman and Melchizedek, who purports to be the King of Salem, Santiago goes to Egypt in search of his own Personal Legend. Melchizedek tells Santiago, '…whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It's your mission on earth.'

What would you do if you were in Santiago's position? Stay where you're comfortable and safe or travel to a foreign land to discover your Personal Legend? Let's see what Santiago decides to do.

Santiago in Africa

The good news is Santiago decides to go to Egypt; the bad news is someone robs him when he gets off the boat in Tangier, a country in North Africa. With no money and in low spirits Santiago finds a job in a shop that sells crystals, and in the course of advising the crystal merchant, finds himself a wealthy man. Instead of using his new wealth to return home, the former shepherd crosses the Sahara desert in search of his Personal Legend.

Santiago joins a caravan that includes an Englishman, who is searching for the secret of alchemy, or the process of turning metal into gold. The Englishman is on his own quest for a 200-year-old master alchemist, who lives at an oasis on the way to the pyramids. Once they reach the oasis, Santiago meets and falls in love with a girl named Fatima. However, tribal warfare overshadows his happiness, and an invitation from the alchemist leads him to abandon Fatima and continue on his way. Before Santiago leaves, Fatima reminds him, 'If I am really a part of your dream, you'll come back one day.'

Santiago searches for his Personal Legend
the alchemist

Santiago in Egypt

While Santiago and the alchemist travel across the desert, the latter teaches the shepherd about the 'Soul of the World'. As the pair nears the pyramids, they're taken prisoner by some Arab soldiers. In an effort to save their lives, Santiago gives the soldiers all his money, and after appealing to the Hand That Wrote All, awes them by creating a sandstorm and turning himself into wind.

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