The Alchemist (novel)

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The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coelho

“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day,we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives” (vii).

“We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear and guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there” (vi).

“I couldn’t have found God in the seminary, he thought, as he looked at the sunrise” (10).

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting” (11).

“So the boy decided that he would never again believe in dreams. He remembered that he had a number of things he had to take care of” (15).

"Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own." (16)

“[the King]: The book describes people’s inability to choose their own Personal Legends. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world’s greatest lie.” “What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.” (18).

“People say strange things, the boy thought. Sometimes it’s better to be with the sheep, who don’t say anything. And better still to be alone with one’s books (19).

“One’s Personal Legend is what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. “At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend….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” (21-22).

“Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have” (27, emphasis added).

“The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself. The sheep, the merchant’s daughter, and the fields of Andalusia were only steps along the way to his Personal Legend” (28).

[wise man to the boy] “Well there is only one piece of advice I can give you’ said the wisest of the wise men. ‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon” (34).

“He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less desperate than before. This wasn’t a strange place; it was a new one…he had already traveled farther than any shepherd he knew. Oh, if they only knew how different things are just two hours by ship from where they are, he thought….As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,” he said to himself” (41).

“He walked slowly through the market…The candy seller had a smile on his face: he was happy, aware of what his life was about, and ready to begin a day’s work. His smile reminded the boy of the old man – the mysterious old king he had met. “This candy merchant isn’t making candy so that later he can travel or marry a shopkeeper’s daughter. He’s doing it because it’s what he wants to do,” thought the boy. He realized that he could do the same thing the old man had done – sense whether a person was near to or far from his Personal Legend. Just by looking at them. It’s easy, and yet I’ve never done it before, he thought” (43).

“The old man continued, “You have been a real blessing to me. Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse” (58).

“The sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired” (62).

“He still had some doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really driving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision” (68).

“I’ve crossed these sands many times, “ said one of the camel drivers one night. “But the desert is so huge, and the horizon so distant, that they make a person feel small, and as if he should remain silent.” The boy intuitively knew what he meant, even without having ever set foot in the desert before. Whenever he saw the sea, or a fire, he fell silent, impressed by their elemental force. I’ve learned things from the sheep, and I’ve learned things from crystal, he thought. I can learn something from the desert, too. It seems old and wise” (73).

“The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there” (74).

“No matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved toward the same compass point. Once obstacles were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a star that indicated the location of the oasis” (75).

“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” (76).

“The boy noted that there was a sense of fear in the air, even though no one said anything. Once again he was experiencing the language without words…the universal language. The Englishman asked if they were in danger. “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver. “and, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward. The rest is up to Allah, including the danger” (77).

“At that moment, it seemed to him that time stood still, and the Soul of the World surged within him. When he looked into her dark eyes, and saw that her lips were poised between a laugh and silence, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke – the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well. She smiled, and that was certainly an omen – the omen he had been awaiting, without even knowing he was, for all his life. The omen he had sought to find with his sheep and in his books, in the crystals and in the silence of the desert….(92-93)

….“It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. He was more certain of it than of anything in the world. He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must fall in love and really know a person before becoming committed. But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language. Because, when you know that language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainly that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning. Maktub [which means “It Is Written” or destined, in Arabic], thought the boy” (93).


“It was my fear of failure that first kept me from attempting the Master Work. Now, I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years” (99).

[The boy to the alchemist, at the oasis] “What if I decide to stay?” [paraphrasing, the alchemist tells him that he’ll be happy with Fatima at the oasis, praised and valued for his counsel there, and rich – but that as time passes, he’ll wander in the desert and become haunted about all that he sacrificed, that he didn’t pursue his Personal Legend]. (119-120).

“The desert, with its endless monotony, put him to dreaming” (124).

“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey” (125).

“His heart was never quiet, even when the boy and the alchemist had fallen into silence. “Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked, when they had made camp that day. “Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.” “But my heart is agitated,” the boy said. “It has its dreams, it gets emotional, and it’s become passionate over a woman of the desert. It asks things of me, and it keeps me from sleeping many nights, when I’m thinking about her.” “Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.”….”My heart is a traitor,” the boy said to the alchemist when they had paused to rest the horses. “It doesn’t want me to go on.” “That makes sense,” the alchemist answered. “Naturally it’s afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won.” “Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?” “Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world. “You mean I should listen, even if it’s treasonous?” “Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them. You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow” (128-129).

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that 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.” “Every second of the search is an encounter with God,” the boy told his heart. “When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous, because I’ve known that every hour was a part of the dream that I would find it. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.” So his heart was quiet for an entire afternoon. That night, the boy slept deeply, and, when he awoke, his heart began to tell him things that came from the Soul of the World. It said that all people who are happy have God within them. And that happiness could be found in a grain of sand from the desert, as the alchemist had said. Because a grain of sand is a moment of creation, and the universe has taken millions of years to create it. “Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,” his heart said. “We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer whant to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them – the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place. “So, we, their hearts, speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won’t be heard: we don’t want people to suffer because they don’t follow their hearts.” “why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?” the boy asked the alchemist. “Because that’s what makes the heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.” From then on, the boy understood his heart. He asked it, please, never stop speaking to him. He asked that, when he wandered far from his dreams, his heart press him and sound the alarm. The boy swore that, every time he heard the alarm, he would heed its message. That night, he told all of this to the alchemist. And the alchemist understood that the boy’s heart had returned to the Soul of the World. “So what should I do now?” the boy asked (129-131).

"When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed" (134).

“Then you’ll die in the midst of trying to realize your Personal Legend. That’s a lot better than dying like millions of other people, who never even knew what their Personal Legends were” (142).

“This is why alchemy exists,” the boy said. “So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself to gold. “That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” “Well, why did you say that I don’t know about love?” the sun asked the boy. “Because it’s not love to be static like the desert, nor is it love to roam the world like the wind. And it’s not love to see everything from a distance, like you do. Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World. When I first reached through to it, I thought the Soul of the World was perfect. But later, I could see that it was like other aspects of creation, and had its own passions and wars. It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in with be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse. And that’s where the power of love comes in. Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are” (150-151).


  • "What's the world's greatest lie?... It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate."
    • Source: Part 1, page 18.
  • "I'm like everyone else - I see the world in terms of what I would like to see happen, not what actually does."
    • Source: Part 1, page 40.
    • Notes: Santiago is talking about how we see something and think we understand what is happening, but we base it upon our desires rather than looking at it objectively.
  • "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."
    • Source: Part 2, page 76.
  • "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
    • Source: Part 1, page 22
  • .... he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke-the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert....
    • pg 97
  • It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time.
    • pg 97
  • There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in that world. Without such love, one's dreams would have no meaning.
    • pg 98
  • It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.
    • pg 64
  • ....intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it's all written there.
    • pg 77
  • The darkest hour of night came just before the dawn.
  • Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.