Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

More a fable than a story, three things kept the book from really earning my admiration, all of which reflect the fact that I simply read this book too late in life. A decade earlier, and we might have had something special together. So much for the past.

My first problem with Coelho’s bestseller is that much of the grist is taken from Genesis, which would only be to the tale’s credit except that when even the ending turns on what is an all too familiar Hasidic yarn (though whether eastern European Jewry can really claim ownership over the tale, I’m not quite sure), the use of so much that is familiar leaves me desperate for signs of authentic creativity.

The second problem goes deeper, as much of the story’s admirable ideas about life’s purpose are ones I had already internalized from elsewhere by the time I got together with The Alchemist. The result was page after page of admirable messages that this time around, resonated only at the level of a study guide.

The third problem goes deeper still, but as it is largely personal, reflecting why and when I read The Alchemist and my immediate reaction to that context, let’s leave it aside for personal conversation and agree for the moment that this is a story to share, just at the right place and time.

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