I first read The Alchemist a few years ago, when everyone was still buzzing about this International Bestselling Phenomenon. I bought it, read it, lent it to my dad, and he read it too. We were both a little underwhelmed. I reread it today to find out if my opinions had changed. They had not.
Alchemist is toted as a book that will change your life. Multitudes raved about the simple wisdom of this fable-style story: a sweet and exotic tale about following one’s heart and fulfilling one’s destiny.
In many ways I can see why it has enjoyed such success. It’s a pleasant book with an inspiring message that appeals most of all to people with good intentions. But there are a few reasons why I didn’t like this book. I thought I’d lay them out here:
1. All that stuff about your own Personal Legend. According to Coelho, we’re all born with one. It is most apparent to us when we are kids but then the distractions of life drown it own as we grow older. The solution? To really, really want to follow your Personal Legend: “When a personal really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realise his dream.” If you’re not achieving your dreams, it’s just ‘cos you’re not wanting it enough. Just yearn for it and y’know…it’ll all just fall into place.
2. The boy’s treasure was a pile of buried riches at the end of his journey. The girl’s treasure was the boy. And nothing else. I’d like to believe most girls have a purpose in life other than finding The One, as awesome as that is.
3. Love at first sight. At a well in an oasis in the middle of the Sahara, Santiago encounters a girl. When he looks into her eyes, he knows instantly and irrevocably that she is his true love. “It seemed to him that time stood still, and the Soul of the World surged within him…he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke–the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well.”
Aww. It was love. Seems sweet and innocuous and romantic enough, but I can’t believe people are swallowing this message. It’s more harmful than it appears at first sight…lolz.
4. Biblical and pseudo-Biblical phrases and parables thrown in willy nilly. “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also” is a direct turnaround of the Biblical verse “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Although Coelho uses both versions in the course of the book.
Other characters include Melchizidek the King of Salem, Joseph the dreamer and the Roman centurion who had great faith in Jesus. OK, so this book is a spiritual masterpiece that guides souls closer to their true callings. I suppose you’re allowed to steal a few names and stories from the Bible to make it sound more authentic.
5. The phrase, “Your eyes show the strength of your soul.” What does this even mean? If I stare at people hard enough, they will bend to my will? Awesome! I never need to fear walking in Springvale at night!
6. The vagueness, the sentimentality, the fact that the fable had no substance, all that stuff about connecting with the Soul of the World, the preachiness. The prose is simplistic and often stilted, lacking individuality, vibrancy and lustre. It made me =(
“Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.” — I came from what? The soul of the what? Can you please be more specific? I’m confuzzled.
“All you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.” — Hmm.
“To realise one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”…nooo, I can think of a few other obligations we have in life.
So yes. The opinion I’m trying to express is that Alchemist has some good values, like chasing your passion/dreams but ultimately, to me, it felt cliched and unoriginal. Of course, this is entirely my own opinion and I don’t mean to push it on anyone else.
Am I being sceptical and short-sighted? Perhaps. Maybe over the years, without realising it, I’ve become a cold-hearted prune of a woman and I would benefit from opening my mind to Coelho’s inspiring message, setting myself loose from the shackles of society and learning the Language of the World by communing with the wind, the stones and the sun.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound mocking! Do let me know if you read this book and learnt something meaningful from it. I’d love to learn something too =)
Related to goal #5 – 9/32 books read and reviewed.