Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

I had heard that this is a great book. My friends who read that book were decent enough not to reveal the story line. I am not that decent. So if you have not read it, and do not want to know what it is all about, STOP here.

Alchemist is a person who can turn anything to gold. In the medieval ages, alchemy formed the ultimate goal of chemistry. Just like perpetual motion was(is) the holy grail of physicists. That apart, this book has very little to do with alchemy... Not even close. This is about choices you make invariably in his life. It is about those choices which you now think you should have made. Those choices you think you were forced to make, although it was your and only your conscious decision. It's all about "Listen to your heart" crap. But how much of it is practical. The boy (hero of the story) always chooses to do exactly what a practical logical person would do with the limited information he has already. Yes, the author knows the future and hence at the end of the book, even the reader may feel that all his decisions were the best. This reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where George decides to exactly opposite of what his instincts tell him to do and as a result gets a job at the Yankees. But, in real life - would that ever work?

In the middle of the book he talks about understanding the "universal language of the world" - that language which animals also can understand. The Wind, the Water, the Sun, all speak this language. Some how, I can not digest that it was Paulo's creation. Such versions of universal language and being one with the five elements already existed in Hindu mythology. Pointers to Akashavaani (voices from sky), Divya dristi (ability to see past, present and future), Elements being portrayed as human beings all over the place in our culture. He has just adapted it into his story. Ironically the story is set in the deserts of Egypt, the land of Arabs. Right theory, wrong place.

The boy, Santiago, wanders in the desert for two years, goes through unbearable miseries and finally finds the treasure right below the tree where he had slept 2 years ago. In these two years, he learns a lot. He learns to speak Arabic, he learns to cross the desert, he learns about the culture at the oasis, he learns about the desert battles, he meets Fatima (love at first sight), he meets the alchemist who becomes his Guru (much like Karna met Parashurama) and what not. At the end he realizes that may be it was his destiny to do all those things and then... only the he would find the treasure. At regular intervals in the book, Santiago meets this person who seems to be GOD. Paulo carefully avoided calling him God even though he had supernatural powers of seeing the past and set things up for Santiago's future. May be he did this to make the book appealing to followers of religions that do not believe of GOD in human form.

Greatest book ever. Not at all. People who have some knowledge of the Hindu culture can not go past one chapter without getting a Deja-vu feeling about having read something like this before - although they were all in different books.


anandanubhava said...

Certainly, nothing new in this book that you can't find elsewhere. In fact, none of the great discoveries or inventions ever find anything truly 'new' that doesn't already exist in nature! It's just a new way of interpreting things according to a new set of rules!
This book is good only coz the vedanta is so hard to read..he's given the capsule of that in easy, interesting fable. Same case with 'Illusions' by Richard Bach's totally vedanta's illusion (maya) philosophy.
Finding treasure under own feet is metaphorical for journey of life where u go thru ups & downs & finally, though u think u need to 'go' somewhere, u don't go anywhere but back to elements from where u first came.
Following signs just makes it easier to go with the flow like sailing with current in a river!

Prashanth Kota said...

read my next blog entry "needless pursuits"

Shubha said...

Definitely an interesting read... I read the book twice... The first time around I wasnt impressed... But the second time around, I guess I was going in circles in life and this just sent the message home... I loved it... And besides I dont think I will ever read the Vedantas... I need such fables :)

Premji said...
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Brasil said...

The Alchemist, is an awe-inspiring story to which anyone can relate. Our main character in the story is a content shepherd finding his way in the world. One day, he abandons his herd to follow, as Coelho calls it, "his Personal Legend." This wonderful story is comprised of fantastic interpretations of the daily life of anyone living in the world. People are too frantic worrying about the hardships of life or how to succeed, and they forget to look around and discover the beauty and true happiness that surrounds all of us. The Alchemist expresses this life long message with a simplistic plot and no harsh criticisms to cloud up this wondrous story.