To my relief, I was not the only one at the book club meeting that didn’t love this month’s choice!
I don’t usually read modern fiction; it’s just not my thing, and I can’t really say way. Maybe I’m just always reading the “wrong” modern fiction and so it has a bad rap in my mind. I did try to have an open mind when I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. I think discussing it with others did help me to give it more of a chance. I probably wouldn’t have finished it, despite its brevity, if I didn’t know the book club meeting was coming up.
In the end, I thought the writing trite and the underlying message saccharine. The author was aiming for a specific religious agenda, and it seemed forced and inappropriate to me. Besides, the back cover of The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo claims, “Every few decades a book comes along that changes the lives of its readers forever.” I guess that just meant that I expected more from it.
In The Alchemist, a young shepherd dreamed of the pyramids in Egypt. The next morning, he met a mysterious king who told him to follow his dream, so he sold his sheep and moved to Africa in search of the pyramids. When he was robbed of his money, he had to find a way to earn more so he could continue to follow his dream. In the desert on the way to Africa, he found other people searching for their “Personal Legends” (i.e., their life-long dreams). One man was afraid to pursue his dream; one man was so distracted in searching for his dream that he missed seeing it right in front of him. The alchemist, a wizard who turns lead into gold, guided the young boy to the pyramids, teaching him how to read nature to find the meaning of the omens on his way to accomplishing his “Personal Legend.”
The Alchemist has been termed a fable. As such, it is telling the story of everyone’s journey through life. It’s a spiritual book. The king at the beginning was Melchizedek of the Old Testament 4,000 years later, giving Santiago the Urim and Thummim to guide him when he struggles. Melchizedek and the alchemist paraphrased biblical truths throughout the book. Because The Alchemist is a parable of a spiritual journey, my thoughts about the book are spiritual and religious in nature.
Of all the religious messages that are discussed in The Alchemist, one seems strangely absent: charity. Instead, it seemed to me that Santiago was encouraged throughout to be selfish in his quest, ignoring others (even a woman he loved) on the way. I believe that in reality, as Paul says many times in scripture, life is about serving other people.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. …
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. …
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (KJV, 1 Corinthians 13: 2, 8, 11-13)
I felt that Coehlo was encouraging us to follow childish things: random dreams that don’t really build us. Is Santiago’s box of gold really supposed to symbolize something precious in our spiritual life? That seems contrary to the gospel Jesus preached:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (KJV, Mat 6:20-21)
There was one part that I did like in the book, and that was Santiago’s work with the crystal merchant. Because Santiago wanted to continue his dream, he needed more money and therefore kept suggesting ideas to the merchant for improving business. At one point, the crystal merchant observed that because of the boy’s influence, he’d have to expand the shop, which may not be a good thing for him. He says,
I’m already used to the way things are. Before you came, I was thinking about how much time I had wasted in the same place, while my friends had moved on, and either went bankrupt or did better than they had before. It made me very depressed. Now, I can see that it hasn’t been too bad. The shop is exactly the size I always wanted it to be. I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I’m used to the way I am. (page 57-58)
I do think it’s important for a person to be happy with the life he or she has chosen. Like the shopkeeper, we might be happy with the status quo when we realize our alternatives. Finding things that make us happy in our situations in life is very important. We should all have goals and dreams of some kind. Maybe this book can help people be proactive in finding those goals and dreams.
I do believe that personal dreams (or “Personal Legends,” if you insist) change as we grow older, as we make decisions, and as other people enter our lives. Our five-year-old dreams should grow up into adult dreams. Sometimes they may be similar, but they still have to be appropriate for adults.
And I think that loving and serving other people is a key to a happy life, not searching for physical treasure or selfishly abandoning others in order to pursue a childhood dream.
Did you like The Alchemist? Why or why not? Did you think Santiago was being selfish?
What was/is your dream? Has it changed throughout your life?
I had two dreams as a child: to write books and to travel. I’ve had the chance to travel (so someone’s going to say “but you already got your dream!”). It’s interesting: my family had the chance to spend a year living in Australia, and although I’d still love to travel through Europe, I’d be okay to never travel again. It’s really nice to stay in one place. I also no longer feel any compulsion to write a book. Raising a happy, healthy, well-developed son has replaced any other dreams I had. Maybe someday I’ll consider writing, but really, my dreams have changed since I was a child. I’m liking the motherhood and the reading things right now.
If you have reviewed The Alchemist on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.
Other Reviews (I’m sure I missed a lot! These are just the first two pages from the search engine.)