Friday, March 18, 2016

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist
Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Publication Date: 5/1/93
Pages: 197
How I Found It: It's incredibly popular
Date Completed: 2/12/16

Summary: Santiago, a shepherd boy from Andalusia, leaves his flock in search of Egyptian treasure. The resulting journey teaches him about the world, its ways, and the people living therein.

What I Thought: So many people love this book. Just looking on Goodreads, it looks like almost all of my friends there have read or want to read it. Most rate it highly. The more you read reviews there, however, the more you realize the zeitgeist is divided. Some find it a brilliant story with a beautiful message; others believe it to be philosophical drivel espousing erroneous ideals.

My take? Everything in life requires a balanced approach and this is no different. The book is undoubtedly a beautiful piece. Coelho has a lovely way with words and his story is compelling while retaining a relaxed, literary feel. Still, he gets a bit preachy at points and I did not always agree with his premises. A main message of the book is, "When you want something the whole universe will conspire together to help you get it." I disagree. Also, I did not love that the messaging seemed specifically directed at men, while women had to wait on the side to become a part of a man's journey. It would have been nice if Coelho had given women a bigger, more influential role in Santiago's journey.

 In the end, the book is not about the end. It's about the journey. It really is a beautiful, symbolic tale. As with any philosophical fiction, you must recognize it for what it is and be able to appreciate it anyway. I quite enjoyed it. I certainly understand why it has proven so influential in the past twenty plus years. The writing is absolutely lovely and it is a nice departure from so much of modern fiction. We do not often see such an idealized quest any more. The whole thing felt very Medieval in that regard. 

The novel certainly will offer as much as you are willing to give it. It is not long, but one could easily spend hours reading between its lines and examining the deeper meanings of Santiago's journey. Or, you can read it as an adventure story and forgo delving into the philosophical aspects. As it is for Santiago, the course is up to the reader to determine; the journey, not the destination, is the joy.

Quotes I Loved:
  • Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. 
  • It's not what enters men's mouths that's's what comes out of their mouths that is. 
  • The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Perhaps

A Reduced Review: While overly philosophical at times, this is a beautifully written quest story; it's easy to understand its popularity.

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