The Alchemist



One of the best-selling books in history, Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist has been translated into over 70 languages, published in 140 countries, and sold over 65 million copies. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated book by a living author.

The Alchemist was originally published in 1988 in Portuguese by a small Brazilian press, and sold only 900 copies. However, once Coelho had published two more books that sold well, The Alchemist became a Brazilian bestseller.

In 1993, HarperCollins published the first English-language edition, printing 50,000 copies, the most ever for a Brazilian book in the United States. The book’s unprecedented success in the United States and Australia launched Coelho as an international celebrity and author.

The Alchemist is a parable with mythic overtones that follows the traditional format of a quest. The basic premise of a man who dreams of treasure in a far-off place, only to discover once he arrives there that the treasure is back where he started, appears in a number of folktales from around the world, notably in One Thousand and One Nights as “The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again through a Dream.” The Alchemist concerns an Andalusian shepherd boy, Santiago, who travels from Spain to Tangier to the pyramids in Egypt in order to fulfill his “Personal Legend.”

The time period is unstated, although it appears to take place at least 100 years ago. The storytelling relies heavily on symbols, religious iconography, dreams and archetypes, and uses plain, unadorned language to deliver universal life lessons, the central one being: Your only real responsibility in life is to pursue your dream.

Coelho has said, “When I wrote The Alchemist, I was trying to understand the reason for the existence of life. Instead of writing a philosophical treatise, I decided to converse with the child inside my soul.”

Its explosive popularity is due, in part, to the way his...

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