Monday, January 19, 2015

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: A review

I don't get it. I was looking at a site on Facebook called Reading Addicts and there was a poll that showed a list of writers that had been great influences on the members. Number one on the list was J.K. Rowling. Okay, she's not the writer that I would rate number one as my influence but she's a great writer, so I'll give them that. But number two on the list was Paulo Coehlo and the book that he wrote that had so greatly influenced these people? The Alchemist! 

Now, for years I have been hearing about what a great book this is and the universal truths that it proclaims, so in 2011, I decided to read it and see what all the shouting was about. I read it, and I'm still wondering. In my estimation, the book was nothing but dreck. What am I missing? Did you read and love this book? What was it that you loved about it? Please explain it to me.

I wrote a review of the book for Goodreads when I read it in May 2011. Here is that review.

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The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Just a few pages into this book, I thought, "Aha!  The Celestine Prophecy all over again!"  In other words, a bunch of pretentious claptrap masquerading as a path to spiritual enlightenment.  My second thought was, "Why am I reading this?"

Well, it was curiosity really.  I kept seeing references to the book, many of them reverential, and I wanted to see what all the clamor was about. Now that I have slogged my way through the book (at least it was short) I understand its popularity even less.

Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, has a Dream which he interprets as a Vision of his Personal Legend in which he will contact the Soul of the World.  (One of the most annoying things about the book is its capricious capitalization of words.)  Anyway, this "boy" as he is referred to throughout the book sells his sheep and heads out on a quest to find a treasure buried near the pyramids in Egypt. In his travels, he meets several enigmatic characters who seem to know what he is about and who help him on his way.  The last one that he meets is the alchemist who accompanies him on the last leg of his trip as he approaches the pyramids.

I realize that I read the book in translation and perhaps one should be careful of judging a book too harshly when that is the case, but this book is written in an extraordinarily simplistic "See Dick.  See Jane.  See Spot." style.  Short sentences.  Short words.  Parables right out of the Bible.  Truly, if I want to read those parables, why would I not go to the source?

I am afraid my Spirit remains Unenlightened.   


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2 comments:

  1. Dorothy,
    I read The Alchemist in Spanish many times years ago and I thought it was beautiful (philosophical and comes full circle a-la classical myths). What I used to like the most was the sense of destiny and how everything that you truly desired became possible once you fully accepted it.
    I read it recently with the purpose of reviewing it and my perspective had changed completely. There are references to myths that are neither fully explored nor they fully work when inserted in the story. I don't like books that try to manipulate me into thinking that something is "beautiful" just because the author says so; in other words, you do your work as an author at describing something and I decide as a reader whether I think that's indeed beautiful. That said, I assigned 4/5 to the book for all time sake.
    I happen to think his Fifth Mountain is a far superior book to The Alchemist; unfortunately, it hasn't received the attention it deserves. I reviewed it too if you want to check it out.

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    1. Thank you for that comment. I think your first paragraph expresses what many people who love the book think, and your second paragraph expresses much more eloquently than i did my reservations about it. Perhaps it has something to do with the stage of life one is in when one reads it. Anyway, I'm afraid I'll just have to continue to be perplexed about its popularity.

      I'll check out your review of Fifth Mountain. Maybe I'll add it to my TBR list.

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