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I know this question is old, but I have to correct something. It was not the 1700s. I'm actually doing research on this book trying to find the answer myself. In the Prologe the Alchimist is reading something from Oscar Wilde. I found that it is a story called Poems in Prose published in 1894. Also there is a mention of a plastic curtain when he goes to see the gypsy. The earliest known use of plastic for commercial goods that I could find, such as a plastic shower curtain was in 1926. Also, they mention a red popcorn making carriage. They were rather popular in the 20s 30s and 40s. Also, travel between Europe and Tanger was easy because it was considered an international zone until 1956. I also noticed that there is no mention of cars or planes at all. And the only war that they mention is between tribes in the desert. So I believe that this book is set between 1926 (because of the plastic) and 1938, because of the start of world war II.
the 1700s is very possible; however, alchemy was practiced the most during the Middle Ages and was labeled as the medieval ancestor of chemistry. Therefore, it is also likely to have occurred during the Middles Ages (roughly the 4th or 5th to the 14th or 15th centuries). There is some reference to it during the Renaissance, as well, which would be 15 to 17th centuries)
In rereading the given sections of the novel, no where in Prologue is Oscar Wilde referenced, and the story can cannot be labeled strictly to him, as it is a famous myth that I have heard and read in many locations. Furthermore, there is no mention of a plastic curtain, but, instead, "a curtain of colored beads." Beads can be made from wood, stones and various other materials other than plastic. The mention of a plastic curtain has been posted various places on the web, so maybe I just missed something, but I saw no reference in the book.
Again, though, as the time is not written anywhere in the book, it is hard to label it with anything.
Just scrolling through and noticed that no one mentioned that the englishman handed in a chrome plated revolver at the oasis. He wasn't overly rich so the time had to be 1800s+, although the novel has more of a 15th-16th century feel and I prefer it that way.
I think I found a good range for it. Guns were used in the story, and the earliest they appeared was 1364, and I believe that Santiago mentioned that Moors were in Spain and they were there until ~1470 so that is about a 100 year range that the book most likely would have taken place. This also makes sense because as previously stated, alchemy was huge at this time.
Santiago talks about speaking esperanto, which was invented in 1887, so the story has to take place after this year.
Sorry, not Santiago, but the Englishman.
Spain, the 1700's, presumably. This was a pretty tough answer to find, so I hope the one reference helps you out.
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