The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

A while back when I mentioned I wanted to read some Brazilian based books or books by a Brazilian author ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho was mentioned quite a few times. He is after all one of the biggest selling Brazilian authors worldwide after all. Lots of you mentioned it and yet all of the insights you gave to me about it were really rather mixed. As the reviews were so varied and because of the authors nationality I rescued it from a pile of books that were heading for the charity shop (my copy was bought five years ago and once I have a book that long and haven’t read it I am never sure I should keep it) and decided to give it a whirl myself and see what all the fuss was about, as its also rather a cult book too.

The best way for me to arrange my thoughts on ‘The Alchemist’ is to split my thoughts into two main sections the first would be the story, though really ‘The Alchemist’ fits more into the fable category. Santiago is a shepherd in the Spanish countryside, though educated highly rather than go onto another career he chose to herd sheep as it would cause him to travel and see some of the world and the people, places and quirks of Spain and human nature. As we meet him he has been having a reoccurring dream, a dream of a boy showing him treasure in the pyramids of Egypt though what can it mean? In a village he comes across both a gypsy lady and a king in disguise give him information that sends Santiago on an adventure to find out if dreams should be followed.

I did actually really like the story, I am always up for a fable and this is – in terms of story – rather a charming one. I also liked the characters, a few were a little one dimensional and some were a little contrived, I particularly loved the wise old gypsy woman and Santiago was a nice young man to follow the journey of. Can you feel there is a ‘but’ coming on?

The second aspect of the book is the fact it’s not just a story but almost a mixture of self-help book and moralistic clichés messages. You find characters will say things like ‘there is no such thing as coincidence’, ‘destiny is in your hands’ or ‘a happy man is a one who follows his heart’. I think I made the last one up but you get my meaning. At first you can ignore it, it’s rather mild and indeed the best fables and fairytales have some sort of moral message at the end.

The difference with this book is that I started to think ‘but why would that character say that?’ It became almost unnatural that these different random strangers would speak of destiny and omens in a few seconds of meeting each other. It felt forced from them and almost forced upon me as the reader. I then felt that little rebellious streak in me think ‘who is Paulo Coelho to tell me how to live my life’. I also didn’t like the underlying message, and maybe this wasn’t the intention, that if you were just a shepherd or a baker then your life was unfulfilled and you should want more. I can think of several of my friends who would do anything to have a successful bakery or cake shop.  So in a way all of this jarred with me as to start to affect the story. I lost interest a little and maybe if the book hadn’t been so short I might have given up on it.

Should it be simply the story/fable of this book that I was scoring it on it would have done much better, however the moralistic force feeding and slightly patronising undertones of the book became too much. 4/10 (I know I don’t normally give books somewhat negative reviews but I very much doubt little old Savidge Reads is going to have any effect on Paulo’s sales, ha.)

So have any of you read ‘The Alchemist’ and what did you make of it? If you are a fan I hope I haven’t offended and backed up my case as it were? I would actually like to give the author a second whirl, I try and do this with any author I haven’t quite got first time round,  yet in the back of the book all his other works seem to be about him and some amazing trips of learning and destiny he goes on. Has he not written any other books with a story sort of like this one?

I read this as part of my Reading For Brazil effort, I am slightly loathed to call it a challenge as its really me reading a Brazilian book or author every now and again as the whim takes me before I go.


Filed under Harper Collins, Paulo Coelho, Review

42 responses to “The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

  1. Annabel (gaskella)

    I really disliked this book for all your reasons too. Our book group read this one just before I joined the group, and it caused a schism – one member left the group, never to return, because they found it life-affirming, and the rest of the group hated it!

  2. Great review! I’m glad to find someone else who didn’t like this book. We had this for a reading project in Uni and everyone excepting me had high praise of it. I couldn’t

    • I liked the story, I just didn’t like being preached too, that would happen with any book that tried though. I don’t mind looking into other peoples vioew but I dont want to be force fed them.

  3. Well written. I’m not a fan either for all the above reasons. I then read The Zahir, having been given it, and it has completely put me off him. I only finished it because I wanted something to skim read in a hopsital waiting room.

  4. I read The Alchemist in 2002 and I enjoyed the allegorical story; I thought after reading it that my dreams were attainable but I was young and impressionable and now I am old and cynical!

    I have a close friend (in her 40s, not that you could ever tell) who adores the book and it’s life-affirming message but she is more into the Universe and how it/she guides her than I am.

    I remember reading Veronika Decides to Die around the same time and enjoying that too. My reading tastes have changed a lot since then and there isn’t any pull to read more Coelho.

    • Hahaha I am a bit of a cynical old so and so which might not have helped.

      Mind you I loved The Celestine Prophecy when I was about 16 and this has that same feel to it.

  5. I think 4/10 is mighty generous for the book I personally consider one of the greatest crimes to the environment Just thinking of all trees that have died to produce the 60+ million copies that it has sold makes me mad.

  6. Like Claire, I enjoyed this book when I read it ages ago, because I was rather young at the time and was into tarot cards and figuring out what my destiny was and that sort of thing. As a result, I wound up reading more Coelho over the years and enjoyed them as well. But now that I’m older, I’m not really sure that Coelho’s book would be my cup of tea anymore. I would classify his books as the type you read when you are going through a phase – because after you get through that phase you no longer need his books.

    • I do think with some books the age you read them really is part of why a book will or won’t work.

      I had a phase of tarot cards and the like, I think that we all have to go through that at some point. I still quite love anything spooky now as an adult.

  7. I read this story and completely agree with your review. At first the fable aspect was kind of cute, though I wasn’t a huge fan. The second part became all self-help / moralistic / cliche / blah. I’ve since read another book by this author and it was very self-help / moralistic junk as well. To be honest I do not understand what people see in these books!

    • Thanks Amy, there are promising moments with this book. That and the fact Coelho will go on and on selling forever and ever were what meant that I could pop my thoughts up on it. I don’t write about books I utterly loathe or don’t finish as I don’t see what value it would add.

  8. I felt the same way about The Winner Stands Alone. I find that his novels have a tendency of coming across as a little didactic and (sorry!) condescending. Maybe it’s the translation… but I have yet to enjoy a book by Coehlo.

  9. It didn’t really do anything for me either, but everyone I know who’s read it loved it. I did think about giving it another go, but then decided I had too many other books I wanted to read.

  10. I haven’t read The Alchemist, but I read another of Coehlo’s books and had much the same reaction. The story could have been good, but it got lost because the book was so darn preachy.

  11. Interesting review! I read ‘The Alchemist’ many years back when I was younger, and I have to confess that I liked it at that time. I liked both the fable part and the moral / self-help part. I have also read ‘Veronika decides to die’ and ‘Eleven minutes’ (I read them at around the same time) and I liked them too. But my reading taste has changed a little bit since then, and so I don’t know whether I will still like Paulo Coelho’s books. I liked very much your comment “I can think of several of my friends who would do anything to have a successful bakery or cake shop.” I think success is very much a state of the mind and for one person the baking of a perfect cake is as wonderful as discovering a treasure is for another.

    • No need to confess you liked it, peoples differing views on books are what make blogs and blogging so interesting. I agree on success being a state of mindf, its also a very personal thing.

  12. Good to hear you’ve read it! I loved it, but I completely understand why you didn’t. I find the characters quite compelling but like you’ve said, it’s very much Coelho imparting advice. That said I’m not too keen on the other books of his I’ve read.

    • I think I will have a whirl with either something very recent or maybe the Veronika book, we will see. I won’t instantly rush to find either though. I haven’t written him off though.

  13. How this book annoyed me back in the day. Not my sort of thing but i’m not really holding that against it. it was the way that people who should have known better would try and force me to read the damn thing telling me it would change my life. I wasn’t aware that anything was wrong with my life and am inclined to resent the implication from casual aquaintence with dodgy reading habits. I enjoyed your review very much.

    • I have never been in the position where someone has said to me ‘ you must read this book’ with anything by Coelho, I think having read him if anyone does I might be a little wary of them afterwards hahaha.

  14. Although you said exactly what I thought I still respect author and his followers as some kind of religion you don’t understand. You cannot argue with people’s beliefs. It is just one of many parallel universes which exist around us.

    • I am not criticising what the authors beliefs are, I am all for learning about all sorts of religious views and outlooks. I married someone with wildly different religious beliefs to me and so I would never argue with them but I can question them to a degree in order to reflect on them.

  15. Michelle

    I think I had almost the same reaction to this book. It wasn’t “horrendous”, but for the kind of publicity and following that it’s got, I think the book failed to do anything for me at all. I didn’t quite like it, and to be honest, I’ve put off reading Paulo Coelho for a bit, at least until I’m convinced that I should give him a second chance.

    • I have to say I have never felt this books publicity has been rammed down my throat. I am a little surprised and yet not about its following, it just seemed most of it was common sense and sayings we hear all the time.

  16. I didn’t like this book either, despite all the rave reviews from trusted friends. I found it annoyingly cliche and simplistic, too. Not really into the fable-ish feel, in general, which certainly didn’t help.

  17. JoV

    Glad I’m not the only one who thinks that it is “Forced”! I gave Coelho several chances in 2008, Warrior of light manual, Brida (which is so awful!), The Witch of Portobello, his short stories “Like the flowing rivers” and this one the Alchemist. I like the short stories, because it’s his own personal observation, but I just decided enough is enough.

    Now that I got so many good bloggers (people like you) recommendations and favourite authors’ backlist… Paul Coelho can take a everlasting Back seat!! 😉

  18. usha

    .Read alchemist ….that will teach u that in this world there is treasure for u that u have to unravel..means Wat u have to achieve,this novel help u in listening the voice of Ur heart Ur heart will let u know that Wat u have to achieve.what u are born for????keep it going until u achieve what u had craved for…..u have to trace out Ur part of treasure from this world…….i believe in it…..if u would read it u would also start believing in your dreams……in this world there is a treasure for everyone that’s for sure but only great people are able to achieve their treasure.i have also started believing in its theme.every object in this world has a soul that also help u through Ur entire journey when u set out to realize Ur starting when i started reading this novel i did not get much but now every day i read this novel and learn something good which infuse some kind of energy in me some inner force that drive me to achieve my unarchived treasure which have been created by that almighty or supreme soul.every thing on this planet have been created by same hand,hand of god so everything is also connected to us in some or in other way or respect.some time we say for achieving something every one had to face some struggle ya, that’s very true before getting that treasure soul of this world want to test that person on certain parameters that whether person is able to handle that treasure or not……..if he gets that treasure easily he is not supposed to consider that one worthy or wont enjoy its preciousness.treasure/achievement is for those one who never look back while they have started their journey in realizing their destiny,only they are able to live out their destiny in true sense

  19. The Alchemist is possibly the most enlightening book I’ve ever read. It is simplistic yet requires you to think about true meanings of each sentence. Every passage is strategic and has a hidden meaning.

    Your comment on the characters being one dimensional. The book is not about the terrible or brilliant upbringing of characters that only usually appear for a few pages.

    Each character represents the different stages of understanding of the way of the universe. Santiago is basically talking to the Universe when he talks to these characters and it is consequently talking back, directing him and helping him realize his dreams.

    If you sit down to read this book with the idea that it is a great story about the emotional turmoils of looking for your dreams then you won’t find the real gem that the Alchemist is.

    • Each to their own and this book has a huge huge audience of people who loved it. I just didnt get it, I went in expecting more than just a story and ended up with just a story. It has worked on many levels for many people though and I would like to try another of his works.

  20. I really enjoyed this book, although if I had any niggly doubts about it, they would be along the lines that you identified. Also my father read the book and gave up halfway through due to the moralising. So I think it’s one of those ones where the story is pleasant enough and people’s reactions are shaped by how they find the morality aspect.

  21. sid

    this is really a capturing book,specially for the young ones to achive their goals and to find success….

  22. Pingback: 2011: #32 – The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) | Confessions of a Bibliophile

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