21 Apr 2014

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

When it comes to The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, people usually split into two groups: the ones who love the book and the ones who hate it. The 'haters' often look down at the 'admirers', saying that the latter ones simply lack literary taste. I realize it is mean, and unfair, and may sound square, but I have to agree with that: people who find Alchemist a good book have either no taste or simple are not well-read. Both are quite bad excuses.

The book, which is about 70 pages long in Word (for some reason (I think it's a marketing technique), some published editions manage to stretch this scribble up to whole 250 pages), can be read in several hours. The protagonist, an Andalusian named Santiago, sees a dream about the treasure hidden at Egyptian pyramids, and decided to follow the dream, like a true believer. On his way, Santiago meets an old man Melchizedel who becomes his mentor and who gives him two stones, Urim and Thummim, that are supposed to show 'answers' and give 'signs' at the crossroads of choices and difficult desicions. Santiago also meets a mysterious Alchemist who teaches him how to accept oneself and, together with that, the soul of the whole world. Successfully overcomming all ordeals that Santiago faced during his quest (i.e., doing everything that 'fate' prepared for him), he finally finds the treasure (and love, and self-acceptance).

I honestly do not understand the ecstatic rapture around this book. It is just so bad on so many levels. Let me touch upon several of them:

The Alchemist is a pure pop-culture product on the shallow level of Britney Spears' creations. Pop-culture is not innovative. It is simply a mash-up of everything that was once on the tide of public enthusiasm. Why do you think people like Lady Gaga? Her music is so catchy because it has something from Madonna's biggest hits, something from Elton John, something from Mercury, and son on.

The Alchemist is based on absolutely the same concept: borrowing. There is nothing new idea-wise, and everything that is borrowed is done in the tackiest way. I choose to say 'tacky' because writing another Book of Proverbs and making it sound as something 'original is exactly that. The Alchemist is a big colletcion of quotes, famous expressions, aphorisms and words of wisdom taken mailny from the Bible. But of course, one has to have read the Bible or at least be very knowledgeable about it to have the ability to recognize these little details, that, in this case, are not even archetypes, but a blatant copy.

Regarding the very literary value, the book has none. Bad style, bad writing, words are intert, the plot is bleak, the characters are extremely flat, and, most importantly, the author has absolutely no voice. And isn't the voice of an author, his perspective, his view, his angle, his opnions the main thing that is keeping the drive? Isn't that one of the very functions of literature - to convey one's true opinions and beliefs, to let yourself be heard and spread your own word? Unfortunately, Paolo Coelho does not 'own' anything. And his famous Alchemist is nothing but a sorry compilation.

PS. I wish people read more classics.


  1. It's funny to read this, because I never really had much interest in this you mentioned, it always seems like much more of a marketing trick than a piece of literature to me. I guess since it's so short I should give it a read to have a real opinion, but I just can't get myself to do it!

    1. Well, I read it because some of my friends have been continuously advising it, and ignoring them any further would be inappropriate at this point, haha.
      But even though I didn't like the book, I do suggest you read it in order to have your own opinion about it! That's more insightful :)


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