By Pieter De Wit
Last winter, on my surfing trip to Morocco, I was catapulted back in time. The moment I arrived in Agadir, I forgot all the luxury back home and fell in love with the richness of simplicity.
While driving through rural areas, I saw shepherds leisurely watching over their sheep and fisherman bringing in their small boats full of the catch of the day. The pace of life was so much slower than I am used to, and that made me appreciate all the little things so much more.
After my first morning surf session, as I lay on a mattress in the shade overlooking the bay, listening to the waves, I was content and happy. It was the perfect time to relax with a good story that matched the unique atmosphere of Morocco, so I dove into The Alchemist.
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist tells the story of a boy named Santiago, who spends his days as a shepherd in the fields of Andalusia, Spain. After having a recurrent dream about a hidden treasure, he meets an old man claiming to be the King of Salem, Melchizedek. This inspires him to sell his sheep and set off on an adventure, crossing the ocean to arrive in Tangier, Morocco.
From there, he plans his trip across the Sahara desert to the pyramids of Egypt. But when he arrives in Tangier, he gets robbed, and so he starts working for a crystal merchant to fund his trip across the desert.
On his way to the pyramids, he meets many other friends and enemies who distract him from continuing his journey to seek his treasure. Halfway across the Sahara, in an oasis, he falls in love with Fatima, a woman of the desert. Although his love for her would make him a happy man, the desire to continue the search for the hidden treasure is too strong. Finally, he arrives at the pyramids of Egypt, where the treasure starts to reveal itself…
Initially, it wasn’t the plot itself that captivated me, but the nostalgic atmosphere of a bygone era. The Alchemist completed my Moroccan holiday by bringing my soul back to a time when everything moved slower. A time of camels instead of cars, kings with crowns instead of politicians in suits, and a desert instead of a highway. More importantly, it’s the tale of a man with goals instead of deadlines; a story of overcoming fear of failure and finding true worth.
A Universal Audience
Written for a broad audience, the story itself is simplistic and appealing to young children as well as adults. But, with so many symbols and hidden messages, any reader can relate this story to him or herself.
The journey to the pyramids of Egypt symbolises life’s journey. One character, the baker, stands for all the people who do not pursue their dreams but instead settle, not completely fulfilled. There are the omens—the signs that can be the catalysts to spontaneously steer your life in the direction you deeply desire. There is the guy at the bar who misleads and robs Santiago, symbolising all people who do not have your best interests at heart. Finally, there’s the Alchemist, who often speaks in riddles and wants to teach Santiago wisdom through self-discovery.
Coelho’s Writing Style
The Alchemist is written in very friendly and easy to read language, and indeed, in the beginning, I found it a bit too simplistic. His straightforward delivery of the story makes you wonder if this book is perhaps too shallow, and you may not even like it at first. But his poetic flow keeps you reading, and soon you discover the contrast between the superficial, easy to read story and the many complex characters, layers and symbols. At points, it just feels like a pleasant and optimistic read filled with a good dose of mysticism. Then your mind starts to wander, you are transported and feel like you are Santiago, riding a camel in the Sahara.
I like to think back on those good old days in Morocco. Just like a shepherd, my life was simple. Every morning I surfed in the pristine waters of the Atlantic, and every afternoon I relaxed in the shade overlooking the bay. I truly enjoyed The Alchemist with all my heart. Great books transport you to a different world.
Currently, our own world is moving at a slower pace too, but for different reasons. I hope you take time to read this weekend, and that for a moment you forget the current chaos and listen to what your soul has to say. And then, just like Santiago, you might be able to understand the language of the world.