The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

thealchemistI’ve been hearing about this book for years and finally read it because a student of mine chose it for a independent study. While the book certainly has its charm, I think I was expecting something different. It’s a simple parable of a young shepherd boy who meets a mysterious stranger and sets off on a quest to find a treasure buried near the Egyptian pyramids — clearly intended as an allegory for each person’s search for his own destiny. I found two things off-putting: the recurring references to the shepherd boy’s, and everyone’s, Personal Legend. The capitalized phrase was too suggestive to me of one of those allegorical self-help books where everything is pretty explicitly laid out, and somehow I was expecting a bit more subtlety. Also, I found a troubling vein of sexism in the shepherd boy’s relationship with the beautiful desert maiden Fatima: the book pretty much states that while every man must pursue his Personal Legend, women just get to wait around for men to come back from the adventure.

So I’d have to say I wasn’t as impressed or moved by this book as many have been — while I do believe it’s a worthy message that you should follow your dreams (within reason!), I didn’t find anything strikingly new or enlightening here. It’s a charming little allegory, but I guess I’d been led to expect something more. People who’ve read and loved the book, tell me: am I missing something?


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Filed under Fiction -- inspirational

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