I read this book in a day, for real. The Alchemist is a story about an adolescent boy who, after having reoccurring dreams, decides to abandon his life as a shepherd and travel from Spain to Egypt to see the pyramids and find hidden treasure. Santiago, the shepherd boy, finds along the way that the journey is the point of his quest, not the destination. In the two plus years it takes him to reach his goal, he encounters thieves, gypsies, a girl with whom he falls in love, unexpected friends, and the alchemist. The alchemist (the character) guides Santiago during the last stages of his journey when he is tested the most and has the most to learn.
With deep religious (but not overbearingly so) connotations, The Alchemist tells of how we all have a personal destiny that the Universe (God, etc...) conspires for us to fulfill. I think of The Alchemistas a Christian's Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (another book which I totally recommend). I think that I will find myself reading other books by Paulo Coelho in the future.
Now I'm off to read the second book in The Wheel of Time epic series, The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan.