Book of da Week: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist
The international bestseller.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho penned this novel and it was published in 1988. The Alchemist has since become renowned as one of those books every reader should just go and read already, which is why we’re including it here as we want to expound (nice word, eh?) on our experience of wading through it.

The Alchemist, an international bestseller available in over 70 languages, is an allegorical novel about following your dreams (more on this further below), literally and figuratively. It’s about a young whippersnapper called Santiago who lives in Spain. After a series of repetitive dreams he takes to be prophetic (the foolish fool), he heads on out into the world in an attempt to fulfill his destiny by getting mega rich.

The Alchemist

Okay, developing on the basic synopsis above, Santiago heads to a fortune-teller and she informs him a trip to the Egyptian pyramids will be worth his while – a treasure awaits him there! He heads on out for an epic journey of self-discovery – along the way he meets a King who informs him of Personal Legend. He’s told:

"When you want something, all the Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

Further into his journey he meets an Englishman and a lady called Fatima, whom he falls in love with, plus the eponymous Alchemist who teaches him a thing or two. In the final stages of his journey, Santiago must transform into a simoom (a dusty wind) to prove his worth and find the treasure – does the lad have it in him?

The Alchemist is, essentially, a novella and the author completed it in a mere two weeks. Coelho claims it was so quick to write as it was: “already written in my soul.” Reading it, we didn’t dislike it, we just weren’t enraptured in the way so many others have been, but it’s comments such as that which have made us tire of his novel entirely. For the sake of impartiality, however, let us move on below to a new section to discuss the Alchemist’s merits and failings. Care to join us?

Respect & Contempt

Despite this being a novel we didn’t particularly enjoy, many millions around the world are absolutely in love with it. During our research for this post, we’ve seen a lot of people claim it changed their lives, state it’s magical, or believe it to be quite profound. That’s the joy of different opinions, taking in what other people have made of a literary text and then (in traditional internet style) engaging them in a furious argument if you don’t share exactly the same belief.

Simply put, we found the Alchemist to be a tedious read and fairly basic in its overt agenda. Our main problems with the novel are its simplistic nature and how contrived it feels. Whilst we’ve seen others hail it as enigmatic, gloriously so, we found the writer’s focus on shifting the protagonist to new areas as quickly as possible, in order to deliver the moral of his story, really rather radically ruined pacing.

The ultimate moral of the story (along with the worryingly basic nature of the philosophising) is also a bit weird. Anyone who thinks by wanting something a great deal the Universe will bend over backwards to assist you is delusional. Additionally, Santiago’s goal is to get incredibly rich which, frankly, in our money-obsessed, business-orientated society, we’re getting bored of hearing about as being considered the indicator of personal success, intellectual advancement, and achievement. “What did you do in life?” – “Oh, I get insanely rich.” – “Anything else?” – “No need! I reached the highest accomplishment known to humanity!” is what the Alchemist tells us.

The translation from Portuguese to English may be a contributory factor here, but we just didn’t find the story engaging. You’re welcome to disagree, and we’re sure millions of people out there would call us “stupid” or something for daring to do so, but it’s our opinion. One thing the folks on the internet can’t seem to handle is differing opinions – one thing the Alchemist has done, at the very least, is provide interesting debate about whether it’s any good. Indeed.

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