The Alchemist is a story about a boy shepherd, Santiago, that goes on a quest to find a treasure that he had seen in a dream. Paulo Coelho writes the story as a parable with a very clear message at its climax. If I am being honest, I found it a little bland. The parable-structure made the experience of reading the novella like reading a religious text versus a piece of fiction. The narrative itself felt arbitrary and contrived. This was especially surprising given how mainstream the book is, and how vocal its fans are of it. I am sure that had I read this when I was younger, I would have found it to be as life-changing as some say it has been for them.
I think a big reason why I dislike the book is because I read it too late. If I had read it 6 years ago when I did not have much life experience, I think I would have been able to enjoy it a lot more. The first qualm I have with this book is the moral: follow your heart, chase your dreams, and be persistent. This is something that 18 year old me would have been more than happy to take on board, but 23 year old me has grown to be a little more cynical and discerning over such advice. Our heart, our dreams are inherently arbitrary and their sensibilities are a product of our environment and experiences, something that we have little control over. Following them blindly does not stand up to much scrutiny. In fact, there are countless examples of people who listened to their hearts and followed their dreams, including Hitler. While that may be an extreme example, it exemplifies the pitfalls of such advice.
Recommended to anyone still in school, stay away if you have finished school. It feels like it should work, and from the outside it looks like it does. But once you take a peek under the hood, you realise how haphazardly it has been put together. I’m sure if I re-read this with rose-tinted glasses, giving every wrinkle the benefit of the doubt, it would be okay, but I didn’t, and I won’t.