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The Alchemist

The great majority of reviewers on Amazon.com give The Alchemist five out of five stars. Before quoting parts of some of the most favorable and unfavorable ones, I’ll relate my own experience. I did not feel transported into another world, which is what I enjoy about fantasies, but this allegorical novel by Paulo Coelho is meant to help transport readers along the journey of life in the real world, when they are not reading anything. Judging by the worldwide popularity of The Alchemist, I believe that it is succeeding. Note these Amazon reviews:

A Useful Symbolic Story

“Simple fable” fits well when comparing “The Alchemist” with a realistic novel, but the lessons to be learned for our lives (or renewed for what we have forgotten) multiply like sand dunes of the Sahara. At least something in the story can be applied in each person’s life. Be aware: This is a symbolic story; it’s not about finding material treasure.

All the Universe can be observed in a single grain of sand

These are lessons that we all know in our hearts, but that we forget as we get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of our material lives. Lessons about listening to our hearts and following our dreams. . . .  Lessons about freeing ourselves from fear and about understanding our lives as part of the energy of the Universe and understanding that everything will work out the way it was intended to. Lessons about trusting in signs, knowing that our lives have a grand purpose and that the forces of the Universe will conspire to help us fulfill that purpose.

Flawed But Ultimately Thought-Provoking and Worthwhile

Yes, much of what negative reviewers of this book have to say is true: the writing is blunt and simple, the characters lack depth and complexity, it is quite male-focused in its subject matter and language, it has a bunch of quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo, and so on. This book should not be put on the list of great literature for the ages. . . . And yet, I have to say – and I feel a bit sheepish about this – that I found it meaningful, even profound at times. How can I say this, given my criticisms? First of all, unlike many reviewers, I did not approach this book with great expectations. No one told me that this was Shakespeare or Tolstoy; I had never even heard of it until it was recommended to me recently. And by the end of page 2, I had adjusted my expectations further. . . .  I suspect that through his simple tale, he is trying to provide some kind of argument against the kind of cynicism or fear that the world can sometimes instill in us, and encourage us to keep diving into that “strong current” to see where it takes us.