The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

alchemistI am so baffled by this book! I picked it up knowing absolutely nothing about it, because I’m on a short audiobooks kick, and have been listening to lots of books under 6 hours. I stumbled across this one while browsing around Hoopla and figured, why not? Then I discovered that it is apparently super popular and has 1.5 million Goodreads ratings?! It’s a classic, beloved the world over, although I personally cannot understand why.

It’s a short little fable, in which a young Andalusian shepard sets out in search of treasure. Leaving his homeland behind, he travels from Spain to Africa and acorss the Sahara to Egypt, meeting various magical and non-magical people along the way, and following a series of omens that guide his path.

I kept listening to the end because I figured there had to be some kind of incredible twist or something to merit all this praise. But there wasn’t! It was just a boring and, in my opinion, not very original fable about “following your dreams”. I get that the point of fables is to impart lessons, so maybe I just don’t like fables. But I couldn’t connect with this on any level. The story was boring, Santiago was not an especially interesting character, and the whole thing seemed to be simply a device for relating platitudes, without any real meaning underneath. It was all about

At the beginning of the book, Santiago meets an ancient king who tells him all about the importance of following your “Personal Legend”. This becomes the book’s mantra, this idea that your purpose in life should be to fulfill your “Personal Legend” at any cost. Santiago travels with this goal constantly in mind, although why he decides his personal legend is to go after some treasure he saw in a dream is unclear. There’s a lot about how people with “Personal Legends” are

Maybe I’m just so, so, so over the whole “follow your dreams and live by your Personal Legend” nonsense. Real life is much more complicated that “following your dreams” and “listening to your heart” and “doing what you love”. It’s not that these ideas are meaningless or useless, but outside of a broader context of struggle and experience, I just can’t take them seriously. Living your “Personal Legend” is all well and good, I suppose, but it’s not as easy as simply walking acorss the desert, following a trail of omens and signs.

I haven’t read a lot of fables, so I can’t compare this one to any others. I do enjoy myths and fairy tales, which often tackle big questions in complicated and nuanced ways. I found nothing complicated, challenging, or messy about The Alchemist, and so for me, it just didn’t work. I’m utterly fascinated that it’s become so popular worldwide. I supposed the takeaway is that not all books are meant for all people, and that’s just fine.

I can’t recommend it, but if you’re into fables, the audio narration was fantastic.



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