The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

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“People say strange things, the boy thought.  Sometimes it’s better to be with the sheep, who don’t say anything.  And better still to be alone with one’s books.  They tell their incredible stories at the time when you want to hear them.”

Everyone told me that I’d love The Alchemist.

Has everyone even met me?

The Alchemist is like The Little Prince, but for grown-ups. It’s written allegorically, offering morals and spiritual life advice on every page. I loved The Little Prince. Why didn’t I love The Alchemist?

Since it’s more like a self-help book with a slight narrative, rather than a narrative book with slight self-help undertones, its overwhelming “thesis” is that if you want something badly enough, the entire universe conspires together for you to get it. That’s an idea that was repeated in the book The Secret, and I happen to think that that entire idea is undeniable bullshit.

If you want something badly enough, you and only you can make it happen. Sometimes it involves sacrifices, redistribution of priorities, and financial investment. These are choices and actions only you can do for yourself – the universe is not going to drop a thing or a person or a life event on you just because you want it badly enough. A friend of mine who travels a lot often gets called “lucky” for her chosen lifestyle. She’s not lucky. She’s made a conscious choice to want that lifestyle, and has given up many things so that she can live her life in that way.

The other problem I had with The Alchemist is its overt spiritual and religious tendencies – the older I get, the less I believe in a God that’s in charge of my destiny, so the repetition of “Maktub” (It is written) doesn’t bode well with my view of the world.

There are certainly some lovely ideas in The Alchemist. In the end, Santiago’s search for treasure was more about the journey itself than the destination or the riches, and I can vouch for that. The four day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu was a physical test, and a far more rewarding and memorable experience than actually reaching Machu Picchu. When I clambered up the stairs to the Sun Gate, overlooking Machu Picchu shortly after the sun rose, all it did was mark the end of the journey. It was nowhere near the best part. The idea of living in the present is also important, but I didn’t need to read a 167 page novel to know that.

The Alchemist is one of those books that tells people searching for answers what they want to hear. People want to know that the universe is on their side. That everything happens for a reason. That you have a destiny. It’s just like fortune tellers and palm readers – people want to know that they have many journeys in their future, that they will meet “someone” soon, that they are brilliant and meant for great things. The only science the lines on your palm are based in is whatever genetic code gave you those handprints. Just like paying for this book, you’re paying someone to reaffirm what you want to hear.

What you and Paulo Coehlo fans everywhere need to hear is this isn’t how life works. The universe is brutal and it doesn’t care if you have a Personal Legend or if you really want to meet the love of your life in a desert oasis. The best you can do is be nice to people while you’re here, because, unless you start turning lead into gold, no one will remember you once we’re all gone.

Sorry.

Books read: 3

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