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.