The Alchemist

I always feel weird when I don’t like a book that so many other people rave about.  Sometimes it makes me question my judgement.

However, in the case of Paulo Coelho’s dreadful book The Alchemist, I feel perfectly confident in questioning the judgement of everyone else instead.

In A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle quotes George Tyrrell’s observation that:

“If [man’s] craving for the mysterious, the wonderful, the supernatural, be not fed on true religion, it will feed itself on the garbage of any superstition that is offered to it.”

This is the only explanation I can fathom to understand why The Alchemist became an international best seller.  To be brief, it is poorly written, derivative, silly, and the author’s attempt at theme and moral are used like blunt instruments to beat the reader about the head.  The only reason I continued reading it is that it was the only book I had available while we were away from the house during a showing.  I looked around for alternatives (anything would have been preferable: annual shareholder reports, lists of potentially carcinogenic sunscreen ingredients, the backs of Kleenex boxes…) but was stuck.

I can’t recommend The Alchemist on any level, for anyone.  However, I’m interested to know if any of you read it, and if you disagree with my reaction.  Or, if you do agree, why do you think so many other people liked the book?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

8 thoughts on “The Alchemist

  1. Your Madeleine L’Engle quote reminds me of one attributed to G K Chesterton: “When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” (or words to that effect).

    I haven’t read the book, and after your review I can’t say that I am keen to pick it up 🙂

  2. I enjoyed this post! I was the lone voice at my bookclub a few years ago and just could not understand why I was the only one who didn’t love this book.

  3. Totally agree. My sister bought me this book several years ago because she said it was amazing. The whole time I read it I thought it had a really disjointed feel and a warped world view. I don’t see how any person with Christian beliefs can find this book insightful or worth reading. (sorry sister!)

  4. I appreciated your quote from Madeline ‘L Engle (and “Circle of Quiet” is in my stack to take to the hospital). I read “Brida”, also by Coelho in our neighborhood book club a few years ago. I found it spiritually creepy. I continued to the end for the sake of discussing the book with neighbors, but I find Coelho’s popularity (Thanks, Oprah.) saddening.

  5. I actually really enjoyed the book. It’s been so long, I can’t recall specifics as to why, but I think I liked the love story aspect and the adventuring. I think with The Alchemist, you could take it as fantasy and not dwell too much on any spiritual or technical aspects (although I know that many like the mysticism of the book and many of my friends cite passages of the book as their favorites or have used them as readings at their weddings). I felt swept away while reading it. Perhaps that means I am not as discerning a reader! But we may also just enjoy different types of stories. After reading it, I read another couple of Coelho’s books (The Zahir and one other) and did not like them at all–I did not like the message or the plots–I think that because the plots were less fantastic, it was harder to get by the mystic aspects, and at least one had random sex scenes that I did not like. Pretty disappointing, but it made me realize that I enjoyed The Alchemist for the story and not for Coelho’s writing style or philosophy.

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