Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not Exactly Golden

The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho

Published by HarperCollins

1 Out of 5 Stars


***spoilers and bitterness ahead--be forewarned**

I'm not sure that I can capture my utter disdain for this book in words, but I'll give it a shot.  I read this book about three years ago and just had to re-read it for book club.  It was a steaming pile of crap then and, guess what?  It's a steaming pile of crap now.  The main reason I hate this book:  it's trite inspirational literature dressed up as an adventure quest.  You go into it thinking that it's going to be about a boy's quest for treasure.  If you read the back, there are words like "Pyramids," "Gypsy," "alchemist."  Turns out, this is just The Purpose Driven Life dressed up with a little fable.  It's Hallmark Hall of Fame territory set in an exotic locale.  Which pisses me off to no end as I normally try to dodge that sort of thing, but here it is masquerading as the type of book I normally like.  It's clich├ęd, didactic, and poorly written.   

Just as with Aesop's Fables, there's a moral to the story.  And Coelho keeps backing up and running over it just to make sure that we get it (and he capitalizes important key words necessary to understanding it, lest we overlook their significance).  If there's one thing Paulo Coelho can do, it's flog a dead horse. 

Essentially, boy thinks he's happy in life.  He's a shepherd who gets to travel the world, has all of his needs met, and owns a book which he can always trade for another book when he goes to market.  What more can a boy need?  Boy is then told by a mysterious stranger that he's not happy at all.  Why not?  He has failed to recognize his Personal Legend.  Everyone has a Personal Legend, which is life's plan for you.  However, most of us give up on our Personal Legend in childhood.  If you are fortunate enough to hang onto and pursue your Personal Legend, then The Soul of the World will help you obtain it.  All of nature conspires to bring you luck and good fortune so that you can fulfill your destiny, whether it's to be a shepherd on a quest for treasure at the pyramids, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, or, one would assume, a prostitute, drug dealer, or porn star.  Hey, we're all fate's bitch in The Alchemist.  But I digress.  Boy seeks out his Personal Legend and finds it's a long, hard road to obtaining what you want in life.  But with faith, perseverance, and just a little goshdarnit good luck, the boy learns to speak the Language of the World and tap into The Soul of the World and fulfills his Personal Legend.  And what does he learn?  That what he sought was back home, the place he started from.  Oh, silly boy. 

So, in summation, here is what you should learn from The Alchemist:
1)  Dream.  And, while you're at it, dream BIG
2)  Follow your bliss
3)  Don't be surprised if you find obstacles in your way, but you will
     overcome
4)  It's good to travel and encounter people from other cultures
5)  What we most often seek is right in front of us, but sometimes we
     have to leave home to realize it

To all of these important life lessons, I can only say, "Well, no shit, Sherlock."  If Coelho knew anything about alchemy, he would have been able to transform this crap into gold.  Alas, it's still crap. 

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