I hear tale from Wikipedia that this charming little novel has been translated into more languages than any other book by a living author. It was originally written in the 1980's in Portuguese by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. It is an allegorical novel about following your dreams. I read it to see what the fuss was about!
It only took me a day to read The Alchemist. I started it on my 30 minute train ride to class, read during my 15 minute lunch break, and finished it on my 30 minute train ride home. I just had the epilogue left to enjoy from my couch. If you're looking to feel satisfied that you've read good literature (and not a smutty book about vampires), but you're not looking to commit too much time to the effort (because you really want to get back to your smutty book about vampires), then you should pick up this thin delight.
The prose is spare, which doesn't surprise me since it comes from the straightforward, relaxed Brazil. If you like long complicated sentences and challenging vocabulary to make you feel smart, then go read some Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens. I personally love prose that is simplistic, lyrical, and leaves some white space for you to fill in details. It challenges your mind in completely different ways.
The plot itself follows a young Andalusian (that's Southern Spain for you geography neophytes) shepherd who has a dream of great fortune. He gives up his life to follow his dream, meets mystical characters, goes on a great adventure, and finds treasure in unexpected ways.
You'll feel like you've heard the morals to the story before--Follow your dreams! Be open to change! Treasure true love!--but it didn't wear on my nerves. Sometimes, it's good to be reminded of the simple lessons we learned in childhood fairy tales.
For my educator friends, could you use this novel in class? Heck yes! I think portions of the Alchemist could be isolated for short stories and examined for the archetypes and allegorical plot elements. There is no violence, sex, drugs, or explicit language. The spare prose would be a challenge to students in the late middle grades, but it would ultimately be accessible.
So, there you go. Read The Alchemist, feel good about yourself, and get back to reading purely for pleasure. Any recommendations re: smutty vampires?
Post-script: I found out from abc.com that Chris Lambton from the Bachelorette loves this book. This doesn't surprise me, since I've got a pretty big crush on this guy.