*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Alchemist, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
The Alchemist is a novel that reads like a centuries-old tale, although it was first published in 1988. It is the masterpiece of Paulo Coelho who has written many other great novels. A short book at around 200 pages, it contains a depth of wisdom that has catapulted it to the top of many book clubs’ lists.
The main character, primarily referred to as “the boy,” has a good life at the beginning of the book, but he yearns for more. He longs to travel, to break free of his barriers, and to be more than a shepherd. When he learns of a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids, he takes the chance and begins a long journey towards achieving his dreams.
It sounds like your normal adventure quest story, but Paulo Coelho injects what would be a face-the-obstacles-to-find-the-treasure set of events with timeless wisdom about fate, dreams, God, and personal fulfillment. Riddled with terms such as Personal Legend, Language of the World, Soul of the World and more, Coehlo challenges the reader to examine his own life and consider what comforts he has exchanged for fulfillment.
The Alchemist is a thought-provoking novel that makes a great book club discussion and is definitely worth a read (or two). If your book club hasn’t read it or if it’s been a few years since you have, it might be time to pick up this novel by the brilliant Coehlo. If you have read The Alchemist and aren’t looking to revisit it, consider these other novels where Coehlo tackles equally deep subjects.
The Alchemist would be a good read for any book club that likes light reads that don’t lack depth. You can trust me or the 28,000 + other 4-5 star reviews on Amazon (no kidding). In any event, there is plenty to discuss about The Alchemist and who doesn’t need a reminder to pursue their dreams? On that note, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious recipe for The Alchemist, so if you are looking for food ideas and more, keep reading!
Here’s a brief summary of The Alchemist:
Santiago has a comfortable life as a shepherd, but he longs for more. When an elderly man who claims to be a king tells him about a treasure buried at the base of the Egyptian pyramids, he has to choose between the life he knows and the one he dreams about. He sets out on the journey and finds himself at odds with thieves, rulers of the desert, and the elements of nature. Ultimately, the greatest obstacle he must face is finding the courage to continue the pursuit of his dream. As he learns to listen to his heart and to divine between truth and fear, he discovers riches far more satisfying than any gold.
For The Alchemist recipe:
The Alchemist is focused so intently on the boy’s internal journey that we rarely see him doing day-to-day things, like eating. However, there are a few instances where food is mentioned as he makes his way to the pyramids.
Here are three food ideas for The Alchemist from the novel:
- Bread – The boy buys a loaf of bread from the baker who never pursued his dreams
- Mint tea – The boy convinces the merchant to serve tea in his crystal glasses (the boy also eats a sandwich while working)
- Dates – The 50,000 date palms of Al-Fayoum are discussed often and there are several mentions of eating dates
I decided to make dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in bacon. This is a delightful sweet and tangy twist on the jalapeno popper type appetizer. The sweet dates pair well with the tangy and strong goat cheese and the salty, smoky bacon adds just the right depth of flavor to the combo.
If you cannot stand goat cheese, you can simply substitute it for another soft cheese, like cream cheese. I recommend using a thinner bacon so that you can easily wrap the stuffed dates and achieve a crispier exterior without adding baking time.
Medjool is the most common type of date found in the states. Fresh dates (which still appear wrinkly) are found in the produce section of the store and will offer you a more robust flavor and a better texture than dried dates if you can find them.
I also served mine with mint tea. Mint tea is easy to make by adding a few mint leaves to brewed black tea and letting the flavors meld together for a while, but you can also buy premixed tea bags at the grocery store or, in some places, already brewed and refrigerated mint tea.
I’m assuming the tea Coelho had in mind was hot tea, but either would work wonderfully. I prefer my tea iced.
Your book club will love this surprisingly simple-to-make, but deliciously complex appetizer! If you are looking for food ideas for The Alchemist, look no further!
The Alchemist Dates with Bacon and Goat Cheese
- 1 package of whole dates 12 oz
- 8 oz goat cheese soft
- 1 lb bacon
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Take one date, slice along one side of the fruit and remove the pit.
- In the opening you created, stuff a generous amount of goat cheese.
- Wrap the date stuffed with goat cheese in a half of a strip of bacon. Pin in place with a toothpick, if desired. Place on a baking sheet.
- Repeat with all of the dates.
- Bake for 15 minutes, turning the dates once at the 7 minute mark for even cooking.
The Alchemist Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Did it bother you that none of the characters names are used? Why do you think Fatima was the only character with a name that was used throughout? Did you catch the boy’s name? Why was it only mentioned once?
- After the boy revitalizes the shop, the Crystal Merchant, still reluctant to change, says “Every blessing ignored becomes a curse…Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.” In addition, after he shares his ultimate dream of going to Mecca, he says, “I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living…You’re different from me, because you want to realize your dreams…But I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.” Discuss this. Do you think the Merchant is in the wrong to feel this way if he is happy as he is?
- If you are familiar with the Bible or Koran, talk about how the novel uses elements of both religions throughout the story. Although it isn’t exactly a religious story, how do these add to the mythical quality of the book?
- After reading the Englishman’s books, the boy is able to summarize everything about alchemy into a few simple lines and the Englishman is sad. He desired someone to discuss the complexity of alchemy with. How does this speak to the idea that we often get lost in the process and miss the simple truths (in other words, we miss the forest for the trees)?
- If you are familiar with the Hero’s Journey, discuss how the book follows the pattern. (For more on the Hero’s Journey, check this out.) Did you anticipate the ending or did it surprise you?
- The boy sees omens throughout the book in almost everything. Discuss this idea. Do you believe in omens? Do you think it was fate, God, or something else speaking to him, or was it his own internal compass directing him?
- When the boy asks why people don’t follow their dreams, which is what fulfills the heart, the Alchemist says, “Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.” Why do you think following our dreams makes our heart suffer, despite being exactly what the heart wants? Discuss this duplicity.
- Discuss how the Crystal Merchant and the Englishman have protected their hearts from suffering by pursuing Safety/Comfort and Knowledge instead of their dreams. Discuss other walls we can build around our hearts to protect them from suffering. Discuss how this fools us into believing we are doing the right thing for our hearts.
- In the end, the boy’s treasure is right where he started. How did the journey prepare him to accept the treasure in a way that his staying home would not have? Do you think that the gold he finds is the actual treasure or is the wisdom he gains on the journey the true treasure?
- Discuss the ideas of the Language of the World, the Soul of the World, and the Personal Legend presented in the book. Do you believe in these? How do the three intertwine?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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