Monday, February 20, 2006

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

In my present state of what may be termed retirement, increasingly have I sought solace in books. Thus it was that my hand fell on a small volume titled The Alchemist by the Brazilian, Paulo Coelho. It failed to remind me where and when it had been acquired, facts that usually are routinely recorded before a book is shelved.

For two days, unable to put it down, I fell under the charm of this strange little book (just over 170 pages), whose back cover blurb reads: "Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever."

A rather too dramatic pronouncement, one might say, for, when I thought about it, I had to admit that it had not so much changed my life as it had convinced me that the worth of a work of fiction need not be judged purely on its large size, resulting from the writer's desire to hold the reader enraptured through a depiction of the lives of three or four generations; nor on the many action events chasing others through the pages; and certainly not on the appeal of torrid love scenes, nor the clever clues as to who had committed the murder(s).

As a matter of fact, although ostensibly a work of fiction, being (to return to the blurb) the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of travelling the world in search of a treasure, the book seemed to me to fit quite neatly into the category of philosophical or even motivational musings. With a final lean on the blurb (for now), this novel is about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path and following our dreams.

Of the people the boy meets on his journey, the first, apart from his own father who advised him to become a shepherd if he desired to travel, is an old man whom his first instinct is to ignore, so caught up is he in his latest book. "The boy was tempted to be rude, and move to another bench, but his father had taught him to be respectful of the elderly".

To his huge surprise, after only a cursory glance at the cover (not the blurb) the old man pronounces the book important, if irritating. "It's a book that says the same thing almost all the books in the world say", continued the old man. "It describes people's inability to choose their own destinies. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world's greatest lie."

You can find the review here

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