Start the New School Year With “The Alchemist”

When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too,” says the boy to the sun, in Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist. If I could teach children anything, it would be that. Well, that and manners. Okay manners and grammar. And kindness. Well, manners are about kindness. Okay kindness comes first, actually, and that puts us back to sentence 1. Fine.

To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation,” is another good line. No wonder a crop of refrigerator magnets has grown up around this book, or that my copy has about 15 sticky notes in it.

Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist

It’s been out now more than 25 years, and I’ve been meaning to post about it for a while… Finally The Wall Street Journal’s piece on Coehlo last week prompted me. That and the thought of a new school year beginning, which always feels like the real New Year to me, and a fresh start.

Paul Coelho in The Wall Street Journal

The Alchemist has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 315 weeks. Just out this week is the titillatingly entitled Adultery, the prolific author’s  27th. Journal reporter Ellen Gamerman writes Coelho likes the one-word title because it goes well with a hashtag. Lord help us it has come to that. But the man hasn’t sold more than 160 million books in 80 languages for nothing. If his social media-saviness boosts his presence in impressionable young psyches and elevates consciousness in the rest of us, fine.

Paul Coelho in The Wall Street Journal

Just now my own little psyche said, wonder if ol’ Jesse Kornbluth has written about The Alchemist on his terrific I bet myself a nickel he had, and I won. He writes circles around me on the subject of books (and music and movies…), read for yourself here. Funnily enough he penned it earlier this year–and the book was published in 1988. Synchronicity.

If you don’t know, or have forgotten, The Alchemist is the tale of an Andalusian shepherd boy who leaves his homeland in search of treasure. What he finds is wisdom and a great love. Writes Jesse Kornbluth, “All this is cloaked in a story that moves considerably faster than the camels that take the boy across the North African desert. Warriors appear, and a haunting young woman, and an alchemist, and there is blood and battle and a kind of magic. It’s a hot, dusty, dangerous trip β€” an Indiana Jones tale for the spiritual. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. To buy the Kindle edition, click here. To buy the audio CD from Amazon, click here.]*

 I can’t think of a better send-off to school for a young person than her own copy, inscribed inspiringly by you. “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,” says the alchemist to the boy.

I don’t have chillens of my own, but I have step-chillens and nieces and nephews, four of whom are just off to graduate school, college, and boarding school. Each will be receiving an Alchemist from Auntie, and yes, there will be a quiz–along with the promise of Coehlo’s more salacious-sounding new Adultery. That ought to get them going.

*If you go to the HeadButler post and click on the links from there, a small commission goes to Jesse Kornbluth does so much to promote writers and artists, I’m  all for sharing the love. 


  1. I saw the book Adultery at Barnes and Noble the other day and thought “woe, now that’s a title”! I have been looking for a book to give my son when he goes off next fall…. So I shall read your suggestion and see if it’s the one. Thanks.

  2. Thank you, Frances! Your review has whet my appetite for both books. I shall be ordering The Alchemist for myself and my daughter as she heads off to school…I might just underline a few lines before she gets it!

  3. This book was required reading for my daughter last year at Ashley Hall (9th grade). It has been underfoot for a while, so maybe I will read it before I put it where it belongs.

  4. Just ordered from through the HeadButler link, also pre-ordered First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, LOVE her. The new Jan Karon, LOVE her too, book, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, will be on its way to my cocoon shortly. Yes, it’s true, I am a certified, card-carrying, bona fide bookworm! Keep those book recommendations coming, I really enjoyed Moonrise by Cassandra King. I could just see that marvelous, albeit a tad spooky-haunting garden! Next year I will “bee” enjoying YOUR book, yay!

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