Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

 

This is Marmite at its best – love it or hate it, it’s unlikely to leave you undecided.

At its most straightforward, it is a simplistically written tale of a nameless Spanish shepherd who sells his flock and travels to Egypt to find treasure. It is easy to see how the basic narrative and seemingly banal plot could be irksome to folks. It’s unrealistic, perhaps a little petty and materialistic and it is true that, as some GR reviewers point out, Coelho’s portrayal of women perhaps leaves a little to be desired. You can hate it for this if you want but, like most philosophical novels, I cannot believe it was intended to be read like that.

At a deeper level, the novella walks you through the ideas of fulfilling your destiny, personal responsibility, connecting with your surroundings and listening to your heart. Although at times the narrative comes across as a little preachy and even sometimes a little reproving, the thoughts it aims to portray are good ones that are worth taking on board and the book has a calm, meditative atmosphere that leaves you feeling restored and contemplative. In so many ways, it reminds me of The Celestine Prophecy – the philosophies proposed in this book are very similar to many of James Redfield’s ‘insights’, although they are revealed in a significantly better way. Whilst the two books are equally perceptive and discuss many of the same things, it is indisputable that Coelho is the better literary writer of the two.

This book has come along at just the right time for me – a time when perhaps I have let my ambitions slip away from me in lieu of the pleasance of everyday life, just like the Andalusian baker. It is definitely a book that I will read again, at those times when I need another gentle nudge. It is a book that I will recommend to others, but only carefully – some won’t contemplate the ideas it holds in the intended way and some will simply be in the wrong place and frame of mind to take it on board. This book may well be for you but you need to listen to the words that are not necessarily written on the pages.

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