Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Monday, September 23, 2013
The Alchemist
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Series: Standalone
Age Group: Adult
Website
Source: Borrowed
Here is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers into the Egyptian desert where a fateful encounter with the alchemist awaits him. This is a story that teaches us, as only few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path and, above, all follow our dreams.
The Alchemist is something of a modern day classic. Its reputation, combined with its fairy tale feel, made me think that I was going to love it.

Instead, I'm just feeling kind of meh.

My main issue is that I prefer subtext. I like there to be symbolism and layers and sentences with double-meanings in the books I read so that I can then interpret them and hear others' (sometimes varying) interpretations. The Alchemist doesn't really allow the reader to do that- it's over a hundred pages of preaching, everything laid out so clearly on the surface that there's very little for the reader to figure out.

I love the lesson of following your dreams, regardless of fears and challenges. I'm not crazy about the fatalistic side of this, though the author does have one foot in and one foot out of the fate pool (as in, you have choices, but if you don't go after the one true path you have, you won't ever be truly happy).

Another aspect that bugged me was the lack of female characters. There are only two with dialogue and the love interest, Fatima, is perfectly content sitting and waiting for her man to return to her while he goes off and has adventures. This stereotypical gender role is irritating, though it would have been significantly less irritating had there been other female characters with the same complexity as the crystal merchant, the King of Salem, or the camel driver.

The Alchemist contains a lot of really interesting philosophy and it's great how the author included a bit of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The world-building is fantastic, too. The pastoral imagery of the desert and Spanish fields is so vivid and gorgeous. I just wish the story itself had more depth.
*2.9 stars*
A Quote from the Book: "The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times."
Do  you like books with hidden symbolism or in-your-face lessons?

5 comments:

  1. I read this a few years ago when I was going through a rough patch in my life and someone recommended it to me. I enjoyed it because I liked the message the book suggested, but like you, I would have preferred a deeper symbolism for me to ponder, but I don't regret reading it. It's just the book has such a loyal following, and great hype, that I expected more.

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    1. Yes, I think it's the hype that made me think this book would be a bit deeper. if it had just had SOME symbolism that was below the surface, I would have liked it a lot more, but I can see how it would help someone through a tough time and I understand why people like it so much.

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  2. Totally agree with both you and Rita_h. And after reading a few other books by Coelho, we can assure you, subtlety is not his strong suit.

    But there's something to be said for the empowering message of THE ALCHEMIST, and its effect on so many people. We also get that it's a bit of an allegory (or fairytale, as you said) so we can give it a little leeway.

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    1. Definitely support the message in The Alchemist (despite the kind of fatalistic tone). And structurally, that's true. It's more of a personal dislike than an actual problem with the book.

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  3. Try summarizing this article for a start... This will get you into the swing of stripping writing down to the bare minimum for easy summarizing and referencing. See more writing a manuscript for a book

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Your comments brighten my day. :)