The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

For a while, I thought this was one of those sorts of books that would be the only good one the particular author would ever write, but time would reveal it as something else. I remembered reading it in high school, as recommended to me by a friend who was not particularly bookish himself, and I remembered liking it both during the read and after. The memory of the enjoyment remained, but the exact recollection of what happened in the book faded away. My only contention came from trying to read some other books by the same author, noticing the obvious decline in both quality of writing and overall manners as a storyteller, with confusing self-important autobiography.

Some scholars far more courageous than I eventually did their research on the book, revealing what exactly was operating behind it all. Under the gloss of the super-fun adventure story with a naïve 'n lovable protagonist is a rather dreadful ideology, a propagandized screed to hedonism and selfishness, whatever the consequence. ... all while wearing the dress of learned wisdom and sagacious profundity.

The true quality of the book should have been signaled to me by its method of discovery, in way of recommendation from someone who didn't normally read much themselves, especially during a time of one's life when “reading novels” for more normal people is a kind of pointless busywork that the education system so rudely forces into one's own personal time. Even the way it repeats the same conclusions over and over again is a small aid to the type of inexperienced reader who would normally pass over the subtexts and symbolism in regular books. (Even if doing so would make it boorishly condescending or nigh-unreadable to someone else who is already widely-read and used to properly-edited prose.) This book holds sway in the same uncatalogued genre which houses the works of Stephanie Meyer and Ayn Rand; sexed-up, action-movie, nouveau bibles for the over-privileged newly-literate; even down to how the screechy polemical can be used as some usurious proclamation from authority, holy writ, to live abusively and selfishly without the stain of guilt or sin.

This is not to say anyone who likes this book is some heretic or moral reprobate; this one sneaks up on you. The more openly Randian side is tucked away in the postscript, a “sample section” offered for book clubs, where the cannabis-inebriated author so embarrassingly John Galts all over the bathroom floor—a pattern which he continued into his other books. I considered it a mercy that the propagandistic element of this book was kept in an area fenced-off from the main story, such that the main story could at least theoretically stand on its own merits, but that only made its true nature much harder to recognize. There's clearly a business in telling people what they want to hear, one which this author was all too happy to indulge for the daytime television talk show circuit of the mid 01990's, but business in capitalism only happens when people have money and not mere need. It gave birth to a fad that eventually exhausted itself, and nobody much cares for this book anymore. In that way, it could've been much worse. This book gave my old high school friends, as every seemingly-trustworthy adult authority in their life shackled them into cycles of unsustainable student debt that they were beginning to have some reservations about, at least a private means to indulge maybe fashioning a destiny for their-selves. (Even if they still lacked the means to act upon it.) Perhaps I was more fortunate that I had other, more actionable means of doing the same.

While there isn't much getting around the fact that it is a bad book, for some reason I can't deprive it of the honour which it was mistakenly given. Should I ever reach up to cast this book away, as is its rightful fate, I find my hand stayed. Thus, it remains, no matter how much less I see of it. Perhaps it's in memory of the friend who so excitedly gave it to me in the first place?

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