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14 April 2006 

My Review of The Alchemist

I just finished The Alchemist. And while its a beautiful and fantastically crafted narrative (I read it in two sittings), I simply disagree with most of it. The book evokes a feeling of truth, and it's not hard to imagine that what it says is true. But ultimately I look at what the book is telling me..."One's only obligation in life is to realize one's destiny." Well, that depends. I don't believe in omens, I don't believe in luck, and I don't believe in divination... even the biblically sanctioned divination that The Alchemist discusses. I don't believe that the universe conspires to help people reach their Personal Legends, and I don't believe that all that was created by the hand of God has the same soul in it. In many ways the book angered me, because while I do believe that we all have a personal calling from God and that very few people actually take up the call and seek that path, I have a hard time reconciling that with the simplicity of Santiago's Personal Legend in The Alchemist.

Some of the biggest things that I can't endorse in The Alchemist are 1) the idea that true happiness is only found in seeking and realizing your Personal Legend (as its presented in The Alchemist), 2) that you should listen to your heart and let it guide you, and 3) the notion that there is one perfect match to your soul that you will meet if you pursue your goal and the connotations of "love at first sight" that that brings up.

1.) True happiness is found in God, and while The Alchemist comes close to this by saying that "all those who he saw were happy he realized had part of God in them," it ultimately indicates that if you aren't chasing this one certain dream.. you can never be happy, you can never realize your "potential for evolution" as from lead to gold in alchemy. There are many purposes you can pursue and be happy. The bible clearly states that man's only purpose is to bring glory to God and rejoice in Him. Thats it, there are as many ways to fulfill that as there are grains of sand and stars combined and then some... but the fact is that only in bringing God glory and not just in seeing God's glory can we find fulfillment and happiness.

2.) Your heart is a traitor. The boy in The Alchemist realizes this, but the Alchemist tells him that "your heart is only a traitor when you stop listening to it." I don't like this line of thinking. When we come into this world our hearts are not capable of leading us. Our hearts are deceitful and malicious, full of every kind of evil according to the bible. Our hearts become hard like stone when we close them off to God and they will only lead us to ruin and death if we listen to them. It is only when we recieve a transformed heart from God that our hearts, through the Spirit, are able to guide us. Listening to your heart and not God's heart will only bring you to pain. Now there is room to draw the parallel that our hearts recognize this void and that emptiness might bring us to God... to the source of happiness, but I don't think that parallel is drawn in The Alchemist.

3.) When the boy meets Fatima he experiences love at first sight, as if the "Soul of the World" were speaking to him through the "Language of the World" that Fatima is the only woman he would ever need in his life. I like that idea, but no the situation. I don't think that there is a perfect match for us out there... I think there is someone that God has chosen as a spouse for all those that are meant to be married, but I don't think that one person matches your soul infinitely better than all others, or that you can know that in a glance. Maybe sometimes that could happen through revelation, but I think if you live your life like that... trusting in the "Language of the World" to show you who to love, you will miss out on a lot of good people, and you will end up covering up a lot of bad characteristics.

That said, I didn't dislike the book. It's a good read, but read it cautiously. I wouldn't recommend that young people read this book, and I don't recommend that you read this book unless you know firmly what you believe. It was fun to read, gripping and exciting, and with elements of truth in it. One line that it uses over and over is straight out of the gospel of Matthew... "where one's heart is, there is one's treasure also." That is true... and indeed many parts of this book borrow from the Truth and weave it in and out, but many parts also borrow from lies and misleading teachings. In the end that's all I can say... The Alchemist, like so much very good literature, speaks of the Truth in some ways, but if you turn to this book for Truth, you will be sorely mislead. And that's all I have to say about that.

I agree with all of the above- especially your last sentence, which is why I enjoyed the book exclusively on a entertainment level. I don't agree with what the author is implying, but I do enjoy the way it was written. I would say that is common to most books I read though that don't contain "the Truth" :)

I understand your critique, but I do think that the Alchemist, which I am reading with my English class, does present the Gospel from an interesting angle. I haven't yet decided whether I fully understand Coelho's relationship to the faith. Regarding the quote from Matthew: my class and I looked at it together yesterday. Have you noticed that Coelho doesn't present it accurately? Coelho says where your heart is, there is your treasure. Jesus says where your treasure is, there will your heart be. So that is interesting. There are certainly problems with the novel for a Christian, but it does stimulate reflection when it is read carefully, and I've been enjoying it very much.

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