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The Alchemist

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho This isn't the kind of book I would normally read. I was at the bookstore, wanting to buy something (I know you've all been there before), and this jumped out at me. Plus, I knew of the book, knew it had a huge following, and figured maybe it was time to see what it was all about.

There's a slight fantastical element to it, but mostly it's a literary fable, complete with its own moral. It's a brief book, but as the author notes in his foreword, it's about searching for treasure and self, and the story and its message are universal.

The story is simply told. It's not that it's dumbed down, but that it's written in clear, concise language. Given that the book has been translated, I'm not sure if the style is more the author or the translator (or both), but it works well. The story is already a fairy tale, and the language of the story supports it. It's direct, without getting sidetracked into things like characterization or even plot, but it wasn't a problem. It wasn't intended to have either.

The story reminds me a lot of Norton Juster's Alberic the Wise. They're not identical: Alberic the Wise is summed up well with its concluding line "It is much better to look for what I may never find than to find what I do not really want"; and The Alchemist is about treasuring what you have instead of what you want. There's just something similar in the characters' journeys to self-discovery.

It also reminds me a little of The Secret, that horrible New Age claptrap from 2006 that basically told people that all they needed to do to get what they wanted was to think positively about it. Early in the book, Coelho tells us, "When you want something the whole universe will conspire together to help you get it", and it sounded just a little too close to the message of The Secret. On the bright side, Coelho doesn't present that message as some spiritual truth; on the dim side, Coelho feels the need to repeat this message quite a bit through the novel.

I wish I could say something more about the story, but it doesn't have any resonance with me. Even if it isn't as hokey as The Secret, it still has a New Age angle to it that didn't do anything for me. It just felt mediocre.