Summary (Mild Spoilers)
Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, has recurring dreams of finding a treasure in Egypt. He embarks on a journey to seek that treasure that takes him over the moors and the desert sands and he meets many spiritual advisers on the way. A fortune teller, an old man in disguise, an Englishman who is interested in Alchemy, a shop keeper who sells crystal, desert tribes’ men and warriors. And of course the alchemist. Even the sands and the camel acts as his spiritual path finders on his journey to Egypt to find his treasure a.k.a his Personal Legend. Through his adventures, Santiago makes discoveries about himself and the world and finds about the Language Of The World and the Soul Of The World.
What worked for me
The title. The title is intriguing, as is the location. Spain and North Africa conjure up mystery and certain inscrutability. Descriptions of the landscape. I enjoyed them and dreamt of jumping on a plane to see Andalusia and Algiers and even traveling in a caravan across the desert.
What did not work for me
Whatever else remains. I think the book is a bit heavy-handed. For a fable it is very long and not surprisingly redundant. I am a big fan of “show-not-tell” style of writing. This book shows very little, but tries to tell a lot. Which gives a feeling that the author is trying to dumb down the book for his readers. Also, where allegories go, there is a certain thrill in “discovering” the allegory which is completely lost here. He lays down the symbols, decodes them for you and then gives his own interpretation all nicely bundled up and tied with a pink ribbon. In my opinion, spiritual themes never go redundant. But when a book like this comes along, it gives a feeling that it is nothing more than recycled spiritual material. The thrill is in finding out the message. If it is laid out plainly, it becomes a sermon, which is what this book boils down to. Also, a good allegory, I think, is a mirror. You see yourself in the symbolism, here I saw only Santiago.
I also had problems with how Coelho defines “Personal Legend”. Is it what you are destined to do? Or deserve to do? Or eventually end up doing? What about responsibility? This book had so much potential. But the seed never quite germinated here. Coelho lays it on thick. On every page. Syrupy Spirituality. I cringed when he described in detail the meeting between a mysterious warrior on the horse in the Oasis and Santiago and ended the narration with this – “He had met the Alchemist?” I, a novice writer could have done a better job of that.
Hot Or Drop
If you like pop spirituality, then this is for you. If you think you can enjoy Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, at this point in your life, read this book. I read Jonathan Livingston when I was 13 and was enamored by it. I think I will pass that book now. If you have read the Little Prince by Antione St.Exupery, definitely drop this book. The Little Prince is in a whole different league. And if you haven’t read the Little Prince and don’t think you will enjoy Jonathan Livingston Seagull at this point in your life, I would recommend heading out to the library and reading The Little Prince instead of the Alchemist. Or pick up Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. That’s a good read too.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Summary (Mild Spoilers)