Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Alchemist

Dude, I don't know.

I read The Alchemist because it showed up on two Top 5 lists of people I know when I polled my playgroup moms in New York for book recommendations. I'd never heard of it, but if two people loved it, it must be worthwhile. So I started it and it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I continued. Kat told me she knows people who hate it and love it so let her know which I am. Being basically easy to please, I fully expected to love it.

But I just couldn't. Good heavens, I got more and more annoyed every time I read it. I have been known to not finish books when they're really bad - I'm such a slow reader I hate to waste too much time. But The Alchemist is so short I decided to stick it out no matter how amazingly lame it got. And it got pretty bad. I thought to blame it partially on the translation, but it wasn't just the language; it was the whole story and telling of it. Minimal character development. Maximal new agey spiritual quasi-philosphical conversations full of capitalized terms like Personal Legend, Soul of the World, Master Work, and Language of the World. Plus a couple of biblical references thrown in for good measure - Urim and Thummim and Melchezidek, and plenty of omens, universal forces, and voices. Oh, and don't forget "listen to your heart."

I read the words but much of the time I couldn't understand what in the world they were trying to get at, and worse, didn't care to. It's the story of a boy's journey to find his destiny, so it had plenty of potential to be touching, uplifting and adventurous, but it was too weird. I kept thinking a story told this way must be trying to be an analogy, and I suppose it was. It certainly supported some good, if cliche, life lessons, like "Life is a journey, not a destination" and "Your treasure is where your heart is." I even admit to being surprisingly pleased with the twist at the end, but only because at that point I was near hating the book.

I don't know, read it if you want to and enlighten me, but I can't recommend it.

And I'm not alone - out of 1,267 reviewers on Amazon, it received an average of 4 stars, and the rating shook out like this:
5 stars - 735

4 stars - 215
3 stars - 94
2 stars - 93
1 star - 130

Me, I'm near the bottom. This book receives a scant 2 disco balls from me, and I'm moving on to my next book without a moment's more reflection. It was definitely no Three Cups of Tea, which I read earlier this summer and which affected me so deeply I'm still trying to find the words to explain how wonderful it is.


Lindsay said...

You know, I'd wondered about that book. When I was in high school and worked at a bookstore, people were always asking me where they could find that book. I'd show them, and I'd look at the title and the picture on the cover. I think I even once read the blurb on the back once...and wanted to gag. There was just no appeal. And it really made me wonder about the people who were head over heels in life-changing love with this book. Because all I wanted to do was gag.

kat said...

thanks for saving me the trouble of reading it. something in your review triggered the thought 'spiritual/scriptures lite' to me. THAT'S why books like that make me crazy - they talk around about god - without actually using the word GOD - or the search for happiness/fulfillment without getting to the heart of the matter. they get headed in the right spiritual direction, and then stop at the kindergarden level.

so, hook me up with something good to read. how's your current book?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...