Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist (Portuguese: O Alquimista) is a novel by Paulo Coelho first published in the year 1988. Originally written in Portuguese by its Brazilian-born author, it has been translated into at least 56 languages as of September 2012. An allegorical novel, The Alchemist follows a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there.

My take: 3 looks
I have waited about a week after finishing this book to write a review because I am so torn about my thoughts and feelings on it.

On the one hand, it is nicely written. It is very easy to read, engaging and has a very nice flow. I quite like the story of a shepherd boy following his dream and finding his way in life. I liked the people he meets along the way, and the lessons he learns from them.

There are some beautiful sentences in the book:
  • If you start out by promising what you don't even have yet, you'll lose your desire to work toward getting it.
  • Sometimes there is just no way to hold back the river.
  • Making a decision is only the beginning of things.

On the other hand, I found the allegory to be very heavy-handed. It almost read like a very long parable. No, scratch that. It IS a very long parable. If I wanted this, I would read the Holy Bible. As a matter of fact, I got the creeping suspicion that a bit of Coelho's novella was lifted from religious texts.

Here are the obvious ones:
  • It's not what enters men's mouths that's evil. It's what comes out of their mouths that is. (see Matthew 15:11)
  • God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom. (see Romans 1:20)
  • Because, where your heart is, that is where you'll find your treasure. (see Matthew 6:21)

These are some of the sentences that made me roll my eyes:
  • And, when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you to achieve it.
  • Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we're living right now.

It was also an odd combination of spiritual and material. The point of the journey was to find the boy's "personal legend", in this case, a treasure hidden in the pyramids of Egypt. However, I wanted the journey to become the treasure. The boy left those he loved in search of this treasure, based on a recurring dream, and ended up communicating with the sand, wind, and sun. If I could name the religions of the world, I'll bet I could point out where they are all represented in this book.

So, while I liked the book, it read a bit like it was written by a frustrated spiritual leader, perhaps trying to find his own faith. While it was intended to make the reader think, perhaps take stock of where you are in your own personal legend, it instead laid everything out a little too precisely, allowing little room for self-reflection and change. In the end, it was just a well-written parable.

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