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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Reviewed

A painting by Louis Comfort Tiffany depicting ...Image via Wikipedia
This parable, and best-selling inspirational novel, is written in a deceptively simple style.
Santiago, the hero of the piece, takes a journey of self-discovery from his homeland of Andalusia, via Tangiers, to the pyramids of Egypt. On the way, he learns many lessons about life, himself and the nature of spirituality.
As a passionate agnostic, I have a built-in suspicion of organised religion or anything that defines God by naming a being that must be beyond our comprehension. So, the references to Allah and to various religious groupings could easily have prejudiced me against the book. That they didn't, is testament to Coelho's ability to express his ideas in a way that is difficult to rage against. In fact, reading this work has caused me to re-examine my outright opposition to religious organisations to the extent that I can now view them as a way for some people to embrace the idea of a superior power and a connectedness of all things in the universe. And to accept them on that level only.
There is a complexity and philosophical depth to the arguments presented in this simple tale, which I suspect will be read on a number of different levels depending on the reader's attitude to matters spiritual. The ideas about love, far deeper and more universal than the romantic love of so much popular fiction, I found so close to my own as to resonate strongly with me.
That the author is a catholic should have made it difficult for me to empathise, but his faith never really got in the way of the ideas he tries to convey here. There is no attempt to convert or to suggest that one set of religious beliefs is any better than any other.
The elements of fantasy and innocence in the story will make it an unlikely tale for the cynical and those for whom romance is something to be avoided. But those with open minds may find something surprising here. I know I will find the ideas returning to me long after I have put the book away.
An interesting reading experience, but one which has not made me eager to try other books by the same author. So, I find myself oddly ambivalent about it; a mixture of admiration and doubt. I suspect the fact that I've come across many of the ideas before in The Secret, which turned out to be a great disappointment, has made me a little sceptical of the content.

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