The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho – REVIEW
By: Preston Simmons | Written: 22 July 2021
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is one of the most read books in the history of literature. To date, it has been sold over 65 million times. Yet, reception for this book is split. Around 50% of readers consider the book a masterpiece and one of the most important books they have ever read in their lives. On the other hand, the other 50% think the book is utter garbage and pure nonsense. For a book that is only 182 pages, it sure has generated a lot of debate.
So, where do I land on this scale of masterpiece vs. pure nonsense? Well, I’m sort of in the middle. It’s definitely not pure nonsense, but I can see where the people who do think so are coming from. And to me, it wasn’t a masterpiece, but I definitely can see how and why it would be called one.
I would describe it as an incredible book for the dreamer but an especially flawed book for the realist. It’s an incredible book because, for such a short story, the message that it portrays is a simple yet powerful one; follow your dreams. However, as a realist, the way that the message is given to the reader is so in your face and so unbelievable that you can’t help but lose respect for it.
And unfortunately, I’m more of a realist.
That said, I enjoyed the book. I especially loved the audiobook version, narrated by Jeremy Irons. He did an incredible job of bringing to life the small cast of characters. But that is what to expect from a world-class actor, such as him. In the end, I recommend everyone of all ages read this book because the only opinion that matters is your own.
The Simple Story of The ALchemist
The beauty of the Alchemist comes from its simplicity. Its length is short, the cast is small, and the message is simple.
The book follows a young shepherd named Santiago. A recurring dream involving a child guiding him to buried treasure by the pyramids in Egypt will set him on the journey of his life. Along the way, he will meet many people that will help guide him towards his personal legend. He will learn the language and soul of the world, but most importantly, he will discover that the most important treasure of all can be found within.
From a purely narrative perspective, the book was good, though it wasn’t anything spectacular. I’ve said it a lot in this review already, but the story is straightforward. He goes on a journey to find treasure, meets people along the way, and learns a lot about the world and himself. That’s basically the extent of the plot.
Even though the plot is straightforward, that doesn’t mean it is badly written. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Nearly every sentence of the book is meaningful and adds to Santiago’s overall growth. Nothing feels wasted or like filler. Instead, it feels like there is something to learn in every interaction or parable conveyed to him.
Interestingly enough, the book could technically be considered progression fantasy. It follows the archetype perfectly. Like most progression fantasy books, it follows the path of “the hero’s journey.” Instead of a journey for physical power, the journey for Santiago is one of enlightenment.
“When you want something, All the Universe Conspires in helping You to Achieve it” – Paulo Coelho
…And other quotes you can find on a Hallmark card. The truth is, for me, a lot of the messages fell utterly flat and felt disconnected from reality (almost to a dangerous degree). The most in-your-face message of The Alchemist, mentioned on every other page, is to “follow your personal legend.” In other words, follow your dreams. Every other path you might take is the wrong one if it is not the dream your soul has given you from birth. At least, that’s according to the angel-like entity known as the Salem King that sets Santiago on his journey in the first place.
You may ask yourself, is it truly wise to drop everything and follow your dream? According to the book, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” If you want it bad enough, it is worth it in the end because the universe will do everything in its power to make it work for you. In a perfect world, that may be true. In reality, unfortunately for most, it’s not.
On its own, it’s a great message. It’s the message that many people give to kids to set them on their path for life. “Follow your dream,” or “do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life!” These are all great, surface-level messages. The sad reality is most people don’t have that opportunity, no matter how much they may want it.
The Crystal Merchant in The Alchemist
The Crystal Merchant is an example of a character in the book representing those who want something badly but give up on their dream. In his case, taking the pilgrimage to Mecca. The book portrays him as a sad individual on the verge of giving up until he meets Santiago. What is unfortunate, even though the Crystal Merchant eventually finds success with the boy’s help, he is still ultimately portrayed as unhappy because he doesn’t follow his dream. He earns a living, but he is still portrayed as a failure.
What is the message the reader is supposed to take away from the story of the crystal merchant? Doing what you have to do to survive means nothing if it wasn’t in pursuit of your dream? That is not fair to those who have no choice in the matter. They shouldn’t be portrayed as lesser than just because they can’t pursue their dream.
It’s a pretentious and privileged way of thinking that I wish represented reality. But it doesn’t. Coelho wrote this book in 1988. Back then, it’s possible that there was more opportunity to follow dreams. But 33 years later, in 2021, opportunities for following dreams seem so far away. With the current job market, the pandemic, a massive increase in the housing market prices, climate change, political unrest, racism, and prevalent inequality among genders (among other things), the perfect world that Paulo Coelho insists exists in life feels false. It’s a beautiful dream that is just that…a dream. The present-day feels bleak, and the future seems hopeless. When can one follow their dream if we are all too busy trying to survive?
All of that said…
I didn’t hate the book. It might sound like I do because of the last paragraph, but I don’t. In fact, in a strange way, I loved it. The book represents a reality that I wish actually existed. A reality where hopes, dreams, and love is all a person needs to survive in life. It’s a place where magic and spirituality coexist in tandem. It’s fantasy in its purest form. For that reason, I appreciate what Paulo Coelho wrote. In fact, because the book is so short and took me only 4 hours to read, I recommend everyone to read it. Maybe, if enough people read the book, the world of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho could become a reality. A reality where hopes, dreams, and love are something that everyone can have.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho