Book Review: The Alchemist – The Epitome of Over-Ratedness

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho defines Over-Rated


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.

The book being recommended to me by so many people, I found it hard to not read and that is why when I spent 300 rupees of my father’s hard earned money, 160 pages of strain on my eyes and a time period of nearly over two days, I’m disappointed on an epic scale. The book not just failed to live up to the expectations, the book makes one question why should there be so many expectations from this book? Living in an era when the commercial avenues of English literature in India are mostly dominated by overhyped bankers becoming writers and later, dance show judges, the taste of the average ‘voracious’ Indian reader was delightfully known; but this book first published in 1988, translated into over 60 languages and selling more than 65 million copies makes one question the taste of the average ‘voracious’ international reader just like the election of Trump challenged the sanity of the American voters.

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.

P. S.
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
2. For further reading on the Barnum Effect, here’s the link:

Thank you for Reading. If you liked this piece, please do not forget to give it a LIKE, SHARE, COMMENT, REBLOG and FOLLOW  if you deem it worthy.

All Rights Reserved

 © A. D. Konwar | | 2016


27 thoughts on “Book Review: The Alchemist – The Epitome of Over-Ratedness

  1. I too was totally underwhelmed by The Alchemist. Your experience with it pretty much echoes mine, and you have stated the case very clearly – if a little bluntly 🙂 – and with much thought – so don’t feel disinclined to do more reviews. Great stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This book has blended pure philosophical and spiritual aspects with human beings desire to find an elixir to become immortal. A journey which will have to be traversed to seek the knowledge, in spite of the challenges- the different terrains acts as a metaphor for ups and downs of life and how a determined traveler navigates with passion and keep a focus on the destination. Traveler personifies Life and social divide between rich and poor are shown as contrasts(evident in society; or for that matter superior culture which can rule over humanity). While reading this, one has to be aware of the journey itself, with the challenges we face in society, put forward in an intense philosophical aspect.

    You have done a fantastic review, which allowed me to share my thoughts on this and way I felt about it. Read it a long time back, now that I have stopped reading books for quite some time now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
      That’s a whole other perspective though that I have to reluctantly agree but maybe the hype thay was created around it made me expect more and I would have appreciated it more had it been read without the burden of expectations that I attached with the book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Let me share an experience, I initially picked up a fantastic classic and being a literature student once upon a time, could not resist from buying a copy. Initially, I could not finish the first two chapters and felt let-down. Then I picked up the same book after 6 mnths and started reading it; by that time my perspectives have changed and was actually unraveling previously missed underlying sentiment of the book. I completed it in no time and also chanced upon new facets which I would have missed earlier. May be, I needed time to keep aside the preconceived notions and strip the mind of critics praise, before I could enjoy reading the classic with simplicity from my perspective. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agreed.
        How one percieves a book inadvertently has a lot to do with the circumstances that the book is being read under and hence, biased perceptions are almost inevitable in most cases. Maybe, my views would change with time if I choose to give it another shot in the future or maybe not, who knows. One could only hope.🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Literature is eternal and interpretations infinite. So, you never know. But I am not trying to defend any particular writer’s work, I put across observations which usually happens while a reader pick up a book which already has been on ‘Bestseller’ list or marketed really well and enjoys immense popularity. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review. This was the first book that I had read when I picked up serious reading and was completely blown away by it. I did not get a chance again to read it as a matured reader but I hope to pick it up again with a critical eye. Thank you for your insight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Omg you’ve ripped it apart! This was one of the first books I had read and let me tell you why it would always be a favourite even if it doesn’t make sense or doesn’t shine that highly in the eyes of literary critics or people who are looking for a book to boost their intellectual appetite.
    Now to address your concerns with its popularity, I will tell you this that there are a very few people out there in this world who could actually give you hope and a lot of people need that hope because things are not very rosy in their lives. They need that hope to survive (it’s not even a luxury.)
    And hope works differently from horoscope. Though it may seem silly and blind, hope never asks to you abandon your deeds and hardwork, instead it motivates you to do these things, pretty much what we need in most situations to make our lives better.
    It’s different from horoscope because it’s not saying this will happen, it’s saying there is immense possibility of what could happen, just don’t give up when things go rough which is what people survive on pretty much during dark days.
    I hope I gave some valuable perspectives to you. Rest it’s absolutely alright you could not like a book, as everyone has a different taste and I respect that ☺
    Also, did I tell you how intellectually satisfying is your writing, the use of right words and expressions to describe what you’re feeling and still sticking to a way that pertains to thinkers, philosophers and the like.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank You for sharing. It’s a valid insight that you provide on the book’s reverence. In the end, it’s ‘many a man many a mind’ and that is what makes Literature beautiful, everyone interprets books in their own unique way out of a combined stream of one’s own consciousness, sub-consciousness and the environment and hence what I believe to be true may be another’s lie and another might believe to be true might be my lie. Moreover, even if two of us had a common truth in between us, that truth also might not be absolute. This is the best thing about literature, open to interpretations and that is why people have not let go off it and never will. The reason literature is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your views, again. Have a nice day ahead.🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Of course, you’re right! that is the beauty of Literature, it’s all about perspectives, there is no absolute truth or stance because no human being is same as another so is the deal with their art, philosophies, literature and other mediums of intellectual expression. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry about the late reply, been busy with the festivities and all. I truly am sorry. Nevertheless, It’s an honour that you considered my name to nominate for the award, but I have to pass. Hope you understand 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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