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on December 31, 2001
Believe it or not, the author of this book starts his narrative by recounting how he lost and then FOUND his way seeking truth in alchemy.
All straight-faced. Anyone who was taught elementary chemistry is left dumbfounded.
But the first pages of 'The Alchemist' are just an indication of what's to come: this book is a mixture of supposedly apocryphal wisdom, recycled spiritual teachings and fantasy. All delivered in a tranquil, friend-to-friend (not to say Master-to-novice) manner which adds a false sense of credibility to the storyteller. Coelho must either be a misguided fool with a talent for words or an expert exploiter of peoples' need for a purpose.
Possibly the latter. That's why he calls his tale a fable. But that it ain't, unless we mean to re-write the rules of the genre as set down by its father, Aesop, more than 2500 years ago. Short as it is, 'The Alchemist' is still way too long to be rightly called a fable. That nice term though is smooth cover for Coelho's chosen means of delivering his moral: the story unfolds in a twisted imitation of '1001 nights' (too bad Aladdin-type heroics have to be mixed with recent day Englishmen, one almost misses a couple of mad dogs). But maybe Coelho's moral needed this kind of imaginary setting: how else can you justify a hammering of 'If you follow your dream the whole Universe will conspire in your attaining it'? In 'The Alchemist' we read of the wind, the sun and other elements assisting the hero (Santiago, a boy shepherd and, doubtless, a future Master Alchemist) overcome all odds in his quest. Which is?... None other than finding a treasure in the Pyramids... That, we're told, is Santiago's 'Personal Legend'. This catchy phrase presumably denotes what we too are supposed to look for in our lives (and then follow, no doubt).
Coelho though is a gifted writer. All the folly is remitted in a slick, deceptively enjoyable bedtime story style. This has prompted many a reviewer to suggest this book is great for kids. I think not; I would be very wary of any material that suggests to my children it's OK to become soldiers of fortune if the whim takes them.
All said, this book does not live up to its illustrious reputation. Moreover, to this reviewer it appears a phoney. If you like the mystics I would suggest you seek 'The Book of Mirhad'; if you are after spirituality go for the real thing, 'The little Prince'; if you want fantasy 'The Lord of the Rings' will offer it to you aplenty minus the didactic overtones; and if you're looking for a good children's story Rowling's 'Philosopher's stone' is the vastly preferred choice.
With 'The Alchemist' you may think you're going in for a fable. But in reality you'll be going in for a myth.
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on September 2, 2003
I wasn't engaged by the main character or the theme, which was preached at the reader more than revealed. The book also lacked plot, rhythm and imagery to stimulate the imagination. I cannot fathom the popularity of this book. It does play into the basic human desire to find one's destiny. But it contains muddled, inconsistent and even contradictory spiritual themes centered on tapping into a universal life source. I actually recommend reading the book, for it portrays an increasingly prevalent world view that I'm afraid is based on wishful thinking. Following one's heart to fulfill a personal destiny is desirable. But history provides ample evidence that man's heart - while having potential - has instrinsic flaws. In this case, I believe the author diminishes his point by driving it home again and again through character after character and circumstance upon circumstance. At least it was a quick read. The casual reader may find some food for thought. But anyone with discernment will see this book for what it is -- warm, fuzzy spirituality crafted to appeal to non-critical thinkers.
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on March 29, 2002
Although this book suggests Free will by urging us to follow our heart in essence it is a hymn to fatality. It tells the story of a young shepherd who gets a dream of a treasure hidden in Egypt and decides to follow it. But all along the way his learnings (and ours) are that things are predetermined. So long as we stick to our dream, that is. Apparently that is why we are here on Earth. To discover our 'personal legend', as it is called in the book. And then fulfil it. If we set on such a course the Universe will conspire to help us succeed (as happens with the protagonist of the book).
Being a free-willed person I have a problem with all that. The idea that I do not control my destiny is unthinkable. The whole notion that things are pre-decided is simply pathetic. A throwback to the superstitious dark ages. As for the author's insistence that if we discover and follow our predetermined mission (OK, 'personal legend', sounds nicer) the Cosmos will turn on its head to make sure we succeed, it would have been laughable if it wasn't downgrading. What differentiates us from animals? What makes us winners if not Free will? This book has been likened to the Bible. Not the Bible I know. Possibly the one for fatalists.
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on November 17, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Germany
This is a very shallow tale disguised as a deeply spiritual fable. Sorry. I know that it has helped many people to start on a spiritual journey (that's why it gets two stars not one) but that doesn't change things at all. Anyone with a gift for words could have created this story just by skimming through the world's mystical literature. If you want depth, go to the truly mystical works such as "The Book of Mirdad" (sadly out of print!) or any of the genuine msytics in any of the world religions - for example Ramana Maharshi, St Francis, the Sufi mystics, Zen masters. Or even the Bible, read with a an open mind. All have much more depth than the Alchemist. And of course the ending of this book was ridiculous. A material treasure is tinsel in comparison to the real spiritual treasure - why then should this be shown to be the ultimate goal and fulfillment? It's a very dangerous premise put forward that spiritual wisdom will lead to material wealth - even if the material wealth is only a by-product.
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on March 23, 2001
What can I say about this book? It is a poorly written fable, with a little vacant glimmer of hope for all. New age hollowness. With sinister authoritarian undertones planted in an all too subtle way. Oh, the preaching goes on and on and on, covert and ever so potent. Make everyone think like a 6 year old Coelho and become a millionaire in the process, go on, cancel out all the western tradition of thought with your new agey bubbles. This is a very profound book on...well I don't know what it is profound on but it is still very deep. Ah, I figured it, life that's the topic of the book, the big L.
But people seem to like it so I better shut up fore they follow their dream of forcing the ones they don't agree with to shut up. (Just a question if two dreams cause conflict, say in a conflict of dreams, does the universe split in half to favour both, or if a dream becomes reality then does the universe no longer conspire and it has to become a dream again for it to happen, or if you dream a lot at night and wake up and don't remember your dream should you see a witch doctor about it, or if one is a dreamer and follows his heart and wonders off to the mecicine cabin of the medicine man and then the man with the long wooden stick tells him...but that's another tale.) Thanks for reading.
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on December 21, 2000
The most mysterious part of this book is its popularity. I understand that it's a simple fable and I'll even grant the "follow your heart" message may be a virtuous pursuit. But the manner in which this message is delivered is tortuous. The characters are passive and hollow and the plot is so contrived as to render the story ridiculous. Instead of having to resolve significant conflicts himself, Santiago floats through the story guided by a sequence of serendipitously fortuitous events. Coelho attributes this to the "universe conspiring" to help him attain his Personal Legend. I attribute this to weak writing.
The underlying message of this book is also troubling. Rather than finding happiness in the journey itself, it suggests that salvation lies in attaining one's Personal Legend--in this case material wealth. The implicit flip-side of this lesson is that if you don't reach your goals, you're either not trying hard enough or not following your "true calling" -- when in reality one's failure is more often attributed to a bunch of external factors over which one has no control.
Those who find this book inspirational probably also find wisdom in fortune cookies and horoscopes.
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on November 21, 2000
Lets try and make a critical approach to this piece of masterpiece. Because a masterpiece it is weather you enjoyed it or not, whether you like it or not. I am not going to start by saying what this book is about. This is the kind of book that is a lot of different things for a lot of people. To me it was a waste of 12 good reading hours, but I will come to this later.
This is a story about growing-up, getting away, knowing the world, become wise and find "Ithaca". There is a boy that rebels to his destiny to be a shepherd and travels the world to see his "Personal Legend" and to achieve this he has to follow the "Signs" and hear the "voices" and feel the "Universal power" conspiring to help him.
But where does this story stand next to the others of its kind?. How well does Sandiago much up to the rest of the wanderers in the history of literature? Take Homer's Ulysses for example who no-matter how well he knew that he was nothing but a pawn in the hands of the Gods he would still master all his human ingenuity, to actively change his situation going against the signs thrown on his way. Young Sandiago on the other hand, is a kid with a dream too, but unlike Ulysses carries his pathetic existence, from place to place, looking for signs, waiting miserably for whatever supernatural powers to claim his destiny. Like a real contemporary New Age hero...
....., uninspired, cliché, dangerous I would describe this book. And I strongly recommend NOT to read it if you haven't read beforehand, Homer, Dante, Newton, Kavafi, and the three fundamental laws of thermodynamics (don't be scared because its physics, they are in your year 10 science book somewhere in you old bookcase, they are 3 paragraphs altogether, and they make perfect sense, go on and read them, then you will see the real magic and wonder and what a unimaginably fantastic this world of ours is).
And as Kavafi said " if you are out there to find Ithaca, you should wish that the trip is long and tough" because ultimately what really matters at the end is not Ithaca but the trip itself
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on June 24, 2000
... unfortunately the original bits aren't inspiring and the inspiring bits aren't original. (Ok, OK, if Coelho can rip ideas off why can't I?).
This I-Spy book of philosophy is nothing more than 10th rate, watered down Voltaire. For Santiago, read Candide and you'll get some idea of where Coelho's influences came from. If you have not already read Candide or Micromégas, then you may find a spark or two of inspiration within The Alchemist, as Coelho does pull the right string occasionally, making the reader ponder where life is taking them and the essential power each of us possesses to change things. Admirable stuff indeed! When, however one recognises how dirivative and inferior Coelho's writings are, the message becomes tainted, insubstantial and ultimately worthless.
By all means click to register your disapproval of my little review, but please, try Voltaire's Candide, either in the original version (if your french is up to it) or in one of the excellent english translations available, and experience the wisdom and humour of a true master who genuinely understood life's great comedy. Coelho falls far short of those he seeks so desperately to emulate.
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on October 2, 2001
I bought this book after I heard people talk about how wonderfull it is and how it contains many grate ideas. Well, let me tell you - I was disappointed. First of all I felt like the author was assuming I (the reader) was incredibly stupid. Otherwise, I really don't know why he kept repeating himself. In my opinion, the one idea the book does have, could have been easily summarized into 2 to 3 pages. At most.
Second of all, I think this book hasn't a single original thought in it. People have been writing about one's dreams, his abilty to do anything if he believes, the goodness of human being etc. since for-ever. The only thing Coelho did is: he recycled.
And last but not least, think a minute to yourself and answer this question: Does the idea of a boy traveller in search of meaning remind of anything? I have one name for you: The Little Prince (and really, if you want to go with the "real stuff" read The Prince and don't waste your time with this silly book).
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on April 29, 2003
Yes, I have to agree with the review entitled "Too Much Hype". If you are a careful and thoughtful reader who appreciates literary style and creative, artful expression through writing, you'll likely be disappointed with this book--as I was.
The writing style is disjointed and hard to follow, although it is written at a jr. high school or high school level. It is truly amazing to me that this person is a best selling author. A real credit to marketing, packaging and understanding the mystery of what will satisfy the hunger of the masses. Who knows, maybe it was just his 'Personal Legend'. After reading this book, I thought even I could do it......
To be fair, the author did include some insights (albeit fairly commonplace) towards the end of his story. But I always appreciate being reminded of those kinds of things..and since I spent the time and money, I had to choose to get something out of it.
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