The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

February 12, 2010 § 25 Comments

The wind began to blow again. It was the levanter, the wind that came from Afirca. It didn’t rbing with it the smell of the desert, nor the threat of Moorish invasion. Instead, it brought the scent of a perfume he knew well, and the touch of a kiss – a kiss that came from far away, slowly, slowly, until it rested on his lips.

The Alchemist had long been on my to-read list. For one thing, it is probably one of the most well-known of all of Coelho’s works. Second, because the title was just so enticing. (So I am now admitting that I’m very much intrigued by the science of alchemy, and whatever else that has anything to do with it. Any suggestions of good books out there, fiction or non-fiction, are greeted with a note of many thanks in advance.)

As it turns out, the book has very little to do with the science of alchemy, and has more to do with dreams, and the journey of a shepherd to pursue his. Santiago dreams of the Egyptian pyramids, and is told that if he goes there, he will find treasure. He does not know what to make of this, and so goes to see a gypsy, who is supposedly able to interpret dreams, but only tells him what I could have told him: that he is to go to the pyramids in Egypt, and there he will find treasure. He finally makes up his mind to make this journey when he meets with the King of Salem, a man who is ‘magical’ in some way, able to tell Santiago things he should not have known, and tells him to look out and heed the omens.

For most of the book, I was left a little underwhelmed. Again, this might have been because of my very high expectations of the book. I had imagined it to be deep and thoughtful, to be able to transport me into this magical world where I could perhaps lose myself for the many hours that I would spend reading it. This didn’t happe, which was disappointing. There was, however, a conversation between Santiago and the alchemist that I found rather compelling, and did save this book much.

“My heart is a traitor,” the boy said to the alchemist, when they had paused to rest the horses. “It doesn’t want me to go on.”

“That makes sense,” the alchemist answered. “Naturally it’s afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won.”

“Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?”

“Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world.”

“You mean I should listen, even if it’s treasonous?”

“Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you. Because you’ll know its dreams and wishes, and will know how to deal with them.

“You will never be able to excape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what i has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.”

I am a big fan of books that go to that deep place inside, but not many manage to go very far. I had expected this book to go there, but it missed its mark, I’m afraid.

Rating: 3


§ 25 Responses to The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

  • JoV says:

    There are some brilliant quotes here and there. But overall his writing is just inundated with spiritual mumbo-jumbo that I felt that it lack subtleness but plenty of cheesy inspirational stuff.
    But his short articles works of “Like the flowing river” certainly comes out more authentic than the rest of his works. Given that I have read 4 of his books in 2008.

    • Michelle says:

      4 of his books?! Did you read The Alchemist before or after the other 3? I’m not too sure I want to try him again any time soon, to be honest. Maybe a little later after my memory of this book is not quite so dominant…

  • Aimee says:

    I seriously don’t get why people love Paulo Coehlo.


  • Ari says:

    This book had some great quotes but I also felt that they were quotes and sayings that I’ve heard all before. I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I liked it but I definitely agree with the 3 rating. I was underwhlemed too, although I had to read it for school (which may have played a large part in my not liking it since we had to do a lot of busywork about the book like idenitfying Spain, Morocco, etc. And discuss alchemy when alchemy isn’t that big of a focus. Ugh, busywork through and through! haha getting off my soapbox now….) and I hadn’t heard of it before.

    Thanks for this honest review.

  • mee says:

    This seems to be a book that readers hate, but non-big-readers absolutely love. A few friends IRL and my husband (!) loved it. My husband loved it so much it took him a year to read it (because he didn’t want it to end). I tried to convince him, “there are many great books out there, you know.” but failed. Well, I’m glad that at least he liked a book that I recommended (I could kinda guess that he’d like it even if I haven’t read it– until now). He told his sister to buy the book, so I think I’m just gonna give/lend her my copy. I’m not rushing to read it. The only Coelho I’ve read was Veronika Decides to Die. It wasn’t bad I thought.

    • Michelle says:

      It’s funny. Because the opinions on this book are quite polarised. I think it might have something to do with our expectations of the book as well. But hey, if it got your husband reading and loving it, it’s got to have some merit somewhere. =)

  • Haha! Yes, there are even plenty of celebrities that profess to the greatness of this book and how it changed their lives. But even before I read the book I knew it’s just actors being overly dramatic (or simple minded?). But I wouldn’t call the book “bad” either. I didn’t expect much when I started, and perhaps that’s the reason why I actually enjoyed reading it. There is certainly nothing fantastic about the writing, and I found many of the different ideas and philosophies contradict each other. So what I did is I just focused on the fairy-tale nature of the story and enjoyed it for what it is (in my opinion): a fairy tale.

    I have my own interpretations of the story (which might be very different from Coelho’s) in my review from last year:

    • Michelle says:

      Have just read your review of the book. I have to say you probably went deeper than the book actually did! Your post was a lot more thoughtful, I felt. But anyway, that’s why blogging is so interesting, we get to learn of so many other ways to interpret a single piece of work!

  • Amanda says:

    Interesting how we view things ahead will affect us. Personally when I started reading this (at my mother-in-law’s prodding), I figured it was going to be very cheesy and kind of dumb. I was pleasantly surprised that it had more to it than I expected.

    • Michelle says:

      I think our expectations do play a huge role in how we finally feel about a book. I never really realised it before, but the more I read and blog about the books, the more it’s showing. I used to pick up and read any book, and had no prior knowledge of what might come out of it, so I always did just enjoy any book I picked up. I’m now starting to wonder if that’s not a better way to go into a book.

  • gaskella says:

    I’m afraid I didn’t like the Alchemist, and I fail to see how so many have been so inspired by it – it was no more than a slight fable to me.

    However I did enjoy Veronika prepares to die – which was a proper novel by Coelho.

    • Michelle says:

      Glad to know that there’s another novel by him that’s gotten a different response from you. It probably means I can still give him another try, since both you and Mee are saying that the Veronika book is worth reading.

  • I enjoyed your review, mostly because I always thought this book was underwhelming but found few people who agreed with me.

    I found this book to be more superficial than deep.

    • Michelle says:

      Like you, I also found it rather superficial. For the most part, it felt like Coelho was just grazing at the surface of something that could have potentially been much deeper and more meaningful.

  • chasing bawa says:

    I’m afraid I’m one of those who felt underwhelmed by the book as well. But it seems like everyone around me loves it. I just didn’t get it. Like Catcher in the Rye (I can hear the gasps of horror and shock.) Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just don’t seem to ‘get’ the book. And I always try and re-read them, but it doesn’t make a difference. So I’ve learnt to just live with it!

    • Michelle says:

      I’ve not read Cather in the Rye, and although I’ve been meaning to pick it up for so long, I’ve just never found that motivation. For some reason, I’m not getting any vibes from it. But like you, if I read and find that I don’t like a book, I mostly just live with it. (Except Lewis Carroll’s two books, which I’ve just read and didn’t quite enjoy. I’m hoping I do develop a taste for them when I reread them next.)

  • Vishy says:

    Interesting review πŸ™‚ I read ‘The Alchemist’ many years back and liked it very much at that time. My reading has changed considerably since then and I don’t know whether I will feel the same way, if I read it now. I think as a fable and a fairytale it would still be interesting, but I am not sure whether it will touch all its readers in the kind of deep insights it proposes to offer. I have also read ‘Veronika decides to die’ and ‘Eleven minutes’ and liked them too at that time, but one of my friends who borrowed ‘Eleven minutes’ from me, said that it read like a collection of quotes πŸ™‚ When I read some of the comments above, I remembered that πŸ™‚

    I have to ask you something though. Which are some of the books which you felt had deep insights and impressed you very much?

    • Michelle says:

      Off my head, I can think of ‘Sophie’s World’, by Jostein Gaarder. It was one of those books that had so much to tell, but it didn’t feel overwhelming with facts or anything like that. It just had a lot of stuff to process, and I liked that.

      I also tend to gravitate towards books that are a little more dark and gloomy, and less bright and chirpy. This book just felt a little.. ‘everything will turn out great in the end’… not exactly my kind of thing. =)

  • Diannne says:

    It was a relief to come across your review. The Alchemist had been recommended to me by someone who thinks it’s the best book ever written, and when I checked out online reviews before I read it, all I found were people gushing over how life-changing it is. When I began to read, I wondered if I had the right book. I finished it wondering what was wrong with me. The story itself is ok I guess, but I found it to be full of what is meant to be profound wisdom that is, in my opinion (anyone who loved the book can have their own opinion…don’t hang me), not true. I have felt so bad about not liking this book that everyone was insisting I should love, that I finally googled “I don’t like the Alchemist” to see if there was anyone else out there. So thank you. I feel much better.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting Diannne. I think it’s only fair that people don’t all like the same books. Especially with books that come highly recommended, I always try to keep in mind that it may not be my kind of book; we all have such different tastes.

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