Marty's Reviews > The Alchemist

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
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May 07, 12

bookshelves: attic-bookshelf, acquired
Read in May, 2012

Kinds of books that I don't like to read: self-help, motivational, inspirational non-fiction books. Perhaps I am stubborn and too proud and feel that no one can help me improve my life by directly telling me how to do it. Or perhaps I'm just not a needy guy … maybe I'm just happy with myself the way I am and it is a waste of everyone's time to try to suggest that I should be any different than my already perfect self. Or maybe, I'm an egotistical maniac. Whatever the reason, I avoid these kinds of books like a particularly bad strain of chicken soup for the appendix. So you can imagine my chagrin when I started reading this book from my book club's World Lit list and found that I had been betrayed! This is not a fiction book … this is one of those self-help books thinly disguised as a story … and not just any story, but a gratingly simple morality tale at that! Rrrrrrr.

What this means is that we get a protagonist who only has a name in the first line of the story, and then is never given any more personality, motivation (with serious reflection), description, or specific points of interest. Of course, this is done so that the protagonist can be the "everyman" and that we are all like him, searching for our own personal legends … oh, sorry … Personal Legend … ahem, and that we all go through the same stages and challenges and blah, blah, blah. Self-help chapter 1, 2, 3 … and however many chapters those kinds of books have. For some people, I'm sure that works great. For me, however, I love a story for the sake of the story, not for the moral at the end … though I appreciate a story that is grounded in enough truth to naturally provide that as well.

Now, I won't say that I wasn't vaguely intrigued by the insightful thoughts projected in the last half of the story, or the--at least--unpredictable ending (story-wise … not sage-like-wisdom-giving-wise), but neither of those contributed any more to the depth of the character, nor made me anymore invested in the story. As far as I was concerned, pretty much anyone could have been killed off in the story at any time and I wouldn't have been fazed or cared at all … in fact, I might have been even strangely happy for the change of pace.

What is interesting to me is that I just finished reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which I'm sure even he would admit was not intended to be a novel for inspiring and motivating people to live better lives. And yet, between The Alchemist and The Lost Symbol, they actually toss around similar philosophic ideas, in some cases almost exact. Yet the message was far more real and impacting to me coming from the action-packed thriller than from the leisurely, earnest morality tale.

Maybe this review tells you more about me than about The Alchemist, but I am who I am and I like what I like. And this, this is not what I like.
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