The Alchemist (first published in 1988) is one of the best-sellers that is hard to review. You can’t out rightly reject it as a literary failure like Chetan Bhagat’s soap operas. One can’t declare it as a classic either. That is because it is tells a simple tale in a easy-to-read language with lot of well-known clichéd sayings. But the tale has the continuity and lucidness that is hard to emulate while narrating a tale of this genre i.e the kind of fables where the protagonist chases his dream. I also suspect that the literary elegance of the book was lost in translation from Portuguese to English.
There are two popular opinions of this book. Apparently they are contradictory.
1. It can be called a spiritual and philosophical tale, with lucid narration and a strong potential to change an individual and inspire him/her. This opinion is well justified because the book has sold 65 million copies and has been translated into 71 languages (as of 2011) worldwide.
2. The contradictory opinion would say that the book is an over-rated book full of clichéd sayings. There have been accused as retelling of "The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again through a Dream" (Tale 14 from the collection One Thousand and One Nights). Coelho, however, does not credit this source text anywhere in the book or in the preface, passing the story as an original work of fiction. Notable members of this tribe include “The New York Times” which says that the book is “more of self-help than literature.”
|The Cover Page of A Popular Edition|
I would like to strike a middle path trying to explore why “The Alchemist” has got such contrasting reviews and why I too feel that such a thing was very obvious.
The metaphors and characters of the book (i.e. a shepherd, an alchemist, a caravan driver or a desert woman) are engaging and strike a chord with the reader. They are genuine and have been conceived well. Their presentation has been realistic and not out of the bounds of our everyday life. This is one of the things that Mr.Coelho has got right. The excessive reference to god, soul of the world and omens do confuse the reader in a peculiar way. But a second thought confirms that these are just metaphors used to convey the tale to the reader.
Mr.Coelho displays originality and brilliance in some parts. One of them being the following lines –
“It’s this; that at certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us , and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
This line convinces me that it can touch individuals in a mocking and witty way, if not inspire everybody in a big way.The author exhibits his real talent as a story –teller only in the end. His best surprise is secretly hidden beneath the sands of our patience. The story ends on a high note, leaving a lasting impact on the mind of the reader.
Coming to the other side of the debate , one finds lack of literary originality. It sounds like one of the fables that your grandma would’ve told you. It continually emphasises on a particular line i.e.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
This line, I feel has been over used to the extent where the reader loses interest in that saying/phrase. The repeated references to omens and god’s grace make the reader lose faith in the authenticity of the pursuit of the protagonist. It makes them doubt whether the protagonist had succeeded due to his perseverance or by sheer chance/ grace of god.
I would conclude by saying that “ The Alchemist” has the potential to stir an individual’s spirits to cock up and aim at his real passion, but lacks the elegance and descriptive layers to claim the coveted status of an unforgettable classic.