I usually do not do book reviews because I am not intelligent enough and not well-read enough to comment in public about some dozens of years of a writer’s life empathising how hard it could be to write a book but having read ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho, I could not stop myself from commenting on its overhyped publicity.
You might belittle me by saying that I am exaggerating but as the reality stands, ‘The Alchemist’ is nothing but the exaggeration of a clichéd, self-assuring, narcissistic and doomed idea and though these adjectives might self-explain its popularity, bear with me as I simplify the overly simplistic book’s plot. “The plot revolves around a young shepherd from Andalusia as a protagonist. The notion that the book tries to instal is that the shepherd named Santiago is not fulfilling his ‘fate written in the stars’ by confining himself to rear sheep. He is having recurrent dreams of finding treasure at the Pyramids in Egypt which he conveniently ignores till out of the blue (in a ‘and then one day’-like moment of those old bedtime fables) a king wearing a gold breastplate influences Santiago and convinces him to believe in it through some vague philosophy. Suddenly, in an optimistic haze, the boy decides to sell his sheep and travel to Tangier, where he is robbed but because the universe had conspired so, he earns his money back as he is just lucky like that to excel well in a new-found profession that he just happened to stumble upon in the middle of nowhere! With this money, he starts his travels again and then falls instantly in love with a “woman of the desert” in an oasis in the middle of the desert before leaving her with a promise to return to which she obliges in a very Bollywood-y way. In this very oasis, he meets the famous alchemist from the title of the book who then refuses to teach him how to change lead into gold or anything worthwhile at all, but keeps on insisting that the boy listens to his heart! He keeps on listening and at last, he finds it in a very boring manner with no real taste in the travels that he endures in doing so!” Basically, Harper Collins (Yes, THE Harper Collins is the present publisher) is selling the book on the premise of a philosophy that they believe that Coelho has craft fully veiled through his words while in reality, the philosophy, if the word can still be used, is ogling at you in a very ugly fashion.
It is clear that this book is no work of literary genius and certainly should not be classified as an adventure(?) novel as it is now. It is at best, at best, a poorly written motivational book. As book reviewer Alina writes, “This book works for the same reason that horoscopes work and the reason behind it is a theory of psychology known as the Barnum Effect. In layman terms, the theory states that if you make something vague and profound enough, everyone will see themselves reflected in it. If you want to test it for yourself just read a horoscope that doesn’t belong to your star sign and see if it still applies to your life and I promise you that it will. An article from Psychology Today explains why the Barnum Effect is so seductive:
“The second reason people fall for the Barnum effect applies more to predictions about the future, the ones we find in fortune cookies and horoscopes. These provide a comforting, if not always reassuring, sense of control over the unknown. In our constant struggle to see into the unknown, these vapid pronouncements give us a handle with which we can open the door. No matter that it’s not going to be a very clear view, nor that if we were keeping records, we’d realize that these prognostications were completely off-base. (emphasis added)””
This is the reason why the standalone quotes, no matter how sexist or irrational, from the book have a cult following but when placed in context to the plot and how the plot is expressed, the quotes too lose their pretentious tone of Sufism and all of their reverence. Barnum Effect is the reason why one would find Madonna and Will Smith endorsing the book on the back cover and not a literary figure because the celebrities feel that ‘The Alchemist’ justifies their fame and that they were destined to be wealthy and famous and hence, they are inclined to like it. Everyone else might like this pretentious ‘novel’ because it reassures them that in the end, young school children are not slaughtered in the name of the Messiah and old Alzheimer affected parents are not disbanded by their well-earning children. The book reassures the fantasy of the ones who like it that every misfortune that happens to them, though arising out of their own real incompetencies, poor decision-making, the lack of the ability to accept criticism and also the lack of the ability to self-evolve, is but a minor speed-breaker in their road to their ultimate destinies in which they will only sit on the throne and no less. Although I believe that our lives are sums of our decisions and a set of dominoes, I do not believe that in the end, everybody is going to win. It’s a train of thought that I could not fathom in a book that’s considered by the majority as a life-changing book and hence, though respecting their beliefs and not curtailing their right to attempt to popularise the same in any media available to them, I reserve my right to do the same. One reader vows to never pick up another Coelho book in the near future.
1. For further reading one could have a look at this article from which a few cues are taken and and thus, due credit is given https://literaryvittles.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/is-this-a-joke-paulo-coelhos-the-alchemist/
2. For further reading on the Barnum Effect, here’s the link:
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© A. D. Konwar | nailapost.wordpress.com | 2016