Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho (1 Viewer)

Stewart

Senior Member
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is billed as a modern classic, yet I find it difficult to discern why. It has the feel of a fable; from a time as hazy as the desert in which it is set, and carries the lessons on life one would expect from such a parable. The feelings of distant memory that it creates, however, fashion a gap between the book and the reader.

It begins with Santiago, a shepherd boy, who gives up his customs to follow a dream he has, a vision of treasure found at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he meets a king, a crystal merchant, an Englishman, and an alchemist; all of whom, with their passing involvement, provide him with a piece of the spiritual jigsaw that is his life. Finally, when he arrives at the Egyptian pyramids, he learns a lesson in life that brings him happiness.

The novel is short, and, while it gets its message across, a number of other things suffer. The characterisation is lean; everyone is faceless, ageless, and speaks with the same voice, a voice of implied wisdom. Most characters are also nameless; even Santiago, the protagonist, is simply referred to as ‘the boy’ throughout. Setting, also, is a casualty of the book; while we follow Santiago through the desert, we never truly get the feeling of being there. We don’t feel the heat, thirst for water, or shiver when night falls.

The prose in the book is extremely simple, giving The Alchemist the feel of a children’s book. Adjectives, especially when necessary, are rare, so that most things are described as ‘the desert’, ‘a horse’, or ‘some wine’. The desert has no texture, the horse no character, and the wine no flavour. Repetition, also, lengthens the book so that, once wisdom has been spoken, it echoes through the narrative so that each action can be credited.

The Alchemist is a quick read, but it’s not a good read. It has the feeling of a bonding session in the workplace where you discuss the implications of pseudo-situations, only moved from the office to the desert. It’s a self-help book disguised as a novel, the “secrets” of life, though hardly life-changing, are listed as stages in one boy’s discovery. I hope you discover this review before the novel.
 

Scratches

Senior Member
Hmm. Monsieur Ilan_Bouchard adores this book, so I expect him to retort soon, if he notices.

I've been meaning to buy it, and now I'm caught between a good and a bad review. I hope I find the above weaknesses forgivable. (I don't like not liking books.)
 
I

Ilan Bouchard

I think the facelessness of the book is intentional. I found it allowed my imagination to stray far further when I read it; rather than modify an image as I read a description (add a scar when I see "a scar across his cheek, etc."), I simply found a character I felt was appropriate and imagined him as such. The point is not to feel the physical aspects of the book, for that is not what it focuses on. The book is not about the horse, or the wine, or the desert. It's simply the story of a boy who finds everything falls into place in due time.

Admittedly, the prose is indeed simple. But that too seemed deliberate, and it was translated anyway, though that's hardly an excuse for those of you whom look for flowing and lengthy prose. I am one of those people, but the simplicity of it is intentional.

It’s a self-help book disguised as a novel, the “secrets” of life, though hardly life-changing, are listed as stages in one boy’s discovery.
If you consider books that have a message with which to shape your life by, then I suppose the Bible is a self-help book as well.

I found it was particularly pleasing as bedtime reading. I'm usually exhausted at this time and can't handle the other headier books (which are rarely novels, making them harder to follow when half-asleep). I enjoyed it immensely, in either case.
 

Stewart

Senior Member
I just didn't like it because it didn't do anything for me: the story was nothing, the character's unengaging, the prose simple and repetitive. That's where I'm happy to leave it.

A friend, however, spotted this review on Amazon:

Sick, morally depraved garbage [Ed.: !!!!!], September 26, 2004
Reviewer: Thinker, Liver "Sam" (Massachusetts, USA)

I find trash like "The Alchemist" to be guilty as the impetus of social decreptitude in the modern world. I do not find it difficult to malign a book that advocates utter greed and contempt for life and that does so with a 100 page heap of cliched crap. A novel that lauds the choice to leave loved ones in search of personal, monetary gain, "The Alchemist" left with me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
 

Walkio

Senior Member
I liked the book. I don't know why - certainly the prose was simple, and there were less adjectives and other techniques than there could, or should, have been. But it did give a message. I don't necessarily agree with the message. But I do believe that people should follow their dreams. Life is so fickle.
 
I'm reading this right now, but in response to the "self-help book" comment...

I'm guess I'm thinking specifically of the last couple of books I read (primarily A Tale of Two Cities, which I just finished), and really shouldn't all good novels be self-help books in a sense? I mean, consider the insight within those pages... Wow.
 

Yuishi

Senior Member
the book isnt bad itas just that it lacks description maybe he doesnt whant you to know how they look like they whant you to imagine urself he wants you to create yoou're own characters and you're own feelings of how it would feel and this story isnt as consentraded on the plot as it is in the lesson its written like a children's book so everyone gets the moral.
 

Stewart

Senior Member
Yuishi said:
the book isnt bad itas just that it lacks description maybe he doesnt whant you to know how they look like they whant you to imagine urself he wants you to create yoou're own characters and you're own feelings of how it would feel and this story isnt as consentraded on the plot as it is in the lesson its written like a children's book so everyone gets the moral.

I'm all for imagining a character's physical appearance but I would expect the writer to do the work in producing solid characters with logical actions and emotional depth. This novel was just a lazy exercise in collating as many optimistic tenets as possible and packaging them as some big secret which, unless you've lived indoors all your life, is hardly earthshattering.
 
W

worldboy90

This is truly one of the most dullest books I have read. Yes I know it is to teach you about the meaning of life and all, but I had that already going in my head before I started reading. It starts out as realistic fiction and ends as one of those mythical tales where the sun, wind, desert, and body parts all have lines and things to say. It had little description, even less action, and the boy seemed completely unbeliavable for his age.

The other thing I hate is they treat the king like an average character, who when he tells everything about the boy to the boy using magic... is still considered normal. The book also tends to repeat its messages over, and over, and over again like a lecture, causing you to lose all sense of attachment. If the author would of chosen to create more a plot line, gave us descripitions, and didn't constantly attempt to hammer his ideas into our heads this might of been a bit better.

Btw... since when do people have conversations with their heart?
 
I

Ilan Bouchard

I wonder if the original text is significantly different than the translation. I'm pretty sure it was a best seller or something.
 
W

worldboy90

Not sure about the original text... But I bet it might read a little better in spanish, and maybe it works closer with the spanish community in context that many hispanics are poor and live close to hot areas like the desert.
 
Top