PAULO COELHO’S enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world.  This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids.  Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest.  No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way.  But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.  Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

As you can imagine, I had pretty high expectations for this book.  It manages to both boost itself up and give a summary of the book…all in one!  Not to mention when you read the excerpts on the back, which tell us that the author Paulo Coelho has sold over 65 million books and that this book “changes the lives of its readers forever”.

I was disappointed.  Hugely.  Even without the high expectations I don’t think I would of liked this book at all.  So why?

What starts as a charming little story about a shepherd who goes on a quest to find treasure (all fine and good) quickly spirals out of control into a novel about faith, destiny and believing in God.  Now, I want to put it out there that I have no aversions to any kind of religion in any shape or form, and that every person has the right to believe in who, or whatever, they wish to believe in.

I just don’t want it shoved down my throat.

The essence of this novel is that when one finds the purpose of their life, their Personal Legend, and can understand the Soul of the World, then they can achieve anything.  This is then demonstrated with Santiago, the protagonist of the novel, who travels through the desert to reach the Egyptian pyramids.

However, what this story lacks is that while Santiago may be able to understand the Soul of the World, which allows him to overcome obstacles, the way the book is written leaves the reader feeling that, actually, Santiago had it pretty easy.

OK, OK so he travelled through the desert, and he came across the obstacles that one would expect in a quest; danger, thieves, battles, harsh conditions, and leaving your love.  But what Coelho fails to do is make this resonate with the reader.  He doesn’t give time for the reader to understand the ramifications of what Santiago is feeling, or going through, before he is facing the next stage of his journey.

Even when he falls in love with Fatima, the desert girl at the Oasis, it seems effortless, sudden and without drama.  There is no suspense.  We are not left cheering for Santiago when the girl finally falls for him.  Just.  Nothing.

While I thought the Coelho was trying to say an important message about believing in yourself, and understanding what you want in life, I think that he did it in the wrong way.  If he truly wanted us to understand how to do these things, wouldn’t he have presented it in a story that is both more realistic, and sadly, more harrowing?  Personally I think I would find it more heart-rending to read a novel about a single mother trying to remember her Personal Legend; or a kid at school being bullied trying to remember that there is a Soul of the World.

But not a boy travelling through the desert on an idealistic journey that we know he will achieve without harm.

I understand that I’m pretty rather ruthless, and I understand that many, many people are huge fans of this book, so if you are please let me know your opinion.  I would really love to see another perspective.

the alchemist

The Alchemist-(image taken from