Transforming Cultures with ‘The Alchemist’

01 August 2014


There are certain books that can create a bridge between people. It is historically know that religious books like the Bible or Quran can bridge people from all over the world with different languages and traditions. But what about a book that is not “holy” in nature? ‘The Alchemist’, written by Paulo Coelho, is just such a book.

It was originally written in Portuguese, and it has been translated into 67 different languages. The novel holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most translated book by a living author. The central theme of the book is universal to all races, creeds and nationalities. It is about having the courage to follow your destiny. In all walks of life, there are people who may not speak the same language or live in the same place that go confidently in the direction of their dreams.

The protagonist in the book, Santiago, was such a person. As a shepherd boy in Andalusia, Spain, he had a reoccurring dream of going to Egypt and finding his treasure. Instead of dismissing his dream, he embarks on a path to realize it. Along the way, he meets various people that are instrumental to him finding his treasure. He also faces some harsh circumstances even to the point of almost giving up.

His journey takes him from the familiarity of his homeland to lands only heard of in stories. Along the way he learns new cultures, a new religion, a new language and a new way of thinking. He even finds true love in the midst of his quest. It is quite possible just as the character Santiago learned a new culture and others learned from him, that ‘The Alchemist’ could be the bridge in the war between Palestine and Israel. This type of shared learning could foster growth instead of the wall of division that is currently present in that region of the world.

Personally, I had never heard of the book until rapper turned actor Will Smith mentioned it in an interview. I decided to read it for myself, so I rented it from my local library. Just looking at the cover, I was amazed at all of the symbolism, and I knew this must be something special. I was so involved with the adventure of Santiago and wisdom the book contained, that I did not want to put the book down.

When I did finish reading it, I loaned it to a couple of my co-workers because I felt they could benefit from it too, and we all discussed the book. After I received it back from them, I read it one more time before I returned to the library. I even bought a copy for my girlfriend because I knew she would enjoy it too.

From the personal endorsement of an actor, the book made its way into the hands of four new people, including me. Speaking for myself, I believe in the book’s main philosophy that is often repeated, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I continue to put Coelho’s words to the test, and they prove themselves to be correct every time.

Acting as a bridge for people and uniting different cultures, ‘The Alchemist’ has sold over 65 million copies. I’m so glad the author followed his own destiny and had the book translated so the world could experience it. He must have known I do not speak Portuguese.


Carlton L. Lewis


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