Friday, 25 October 2013

Book review - The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Roland Yeoman's first blogfest - scary reads.

My review for The Armchair Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse Club.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

From Goodreads:

Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever. Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist is such a book With over a million and a half copies sold in Latin America and Europe, The Alchemist has already achieved the status of a modern classic.

The American publisher Harper Collins said: "…reading the alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise while the rest of the world still slept.”


This is a book read by American presidents. When I started reading it, I knew why these powerful men had read it. It’s a deceptively simple tale with a compelling message of the most magical of all journeys: the quest to fulfil one’s destiny. It’s full of psychological intensity and spirituality, couched in fairy tale language.

The story is of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert. He is on a quest--in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. His journey is fraught with obstacles and peppered with intriguing characters.

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 to reach his goal. The intriguing aspect of this novel is that what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. The message is that the magic, dreams and treasures we all seek elsewhere are found at our doorstep.

There is a shimmering elegance in its telling. The language is lush, evocative, and the story 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. There is comic charm and dramatic tension aplenty. Overall it is a sweetly exotic tale that young and old alike can immerse themselves in. After all, it’s an adventure story full of magic and wisdom. What's not to love about that?

Why was The Alchemist such a success? Probably because we all need to be aware of our personal calling. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm we are following the legend. But we don’t all have the courage to confront our dream. Coelho relates the journey as best he can. He deals with each of the four obstacles he claims stand in the way of us realizing our dream. In his words:

1.       We are told from childhood that everything we want to do is impossible. We get to the stage when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our souls that it is invisible. But it is still there.
2.       Love. We know what we want to do but we’re afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything to pursue our dream. Those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on our journey.
3.       Fear of defeat. We fight for our dream but it doesn't work out. We cannot go back. We do want it and have staked everything on it. The path of personal calling is no easier than any other path except our whole heart is in this journey. Have patience. The Universe is conspiring in your favour even though you don’t understand how. Why is defeat necessary? Who knows? But they happen. Maybe when we first start fighting for our dream we make mistakes. The secret of life – fall seven times, get up eight times. The defeats may go on for years, eating away at our soul, until one day we are no longer able to free ourselves from bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives. Then one day we notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us.
4.       The most dangerous of obstacles--the fear of realizing the dream we’ve fought for all our lives. Oscar Wilde claims that each man kills the thing he loves. The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of an ordinary man with guilt. We check out those who’ve failed and feel we don’t deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we’ve overcome, all the suffering, all the things we had to give up. Many people when their personal calling was within their grasp, commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reach their goal. They self destruct when their goal was only  a step away. The most dangerous obstacle as has a saintly aura about it. Renounce the joy and conquest. However, if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, you become an instrument of God, you understand why you are here.

Click HERE for more book reviews.
The little shepherd boy Santiago’s purpose in life was to travel, so travel he did. He was looking for treasure. His journeys were full of excitement and danger, but did he reach his goal? How did his journey end? You'll have to read it to find out.

Claim the life of your dreams.

Have you read The Alchemist? What did you think of it?

The only way I can hope to get all my blog posts done is to double up. Here is my entry for Roland's first ever blogfest.

His instructions:

You have from October 1st to Halloween to post about the book which scared you the most as a young reader and the book which scared you the most as an adult.

Okay, I've never been a fan of horror, so I avoid scary books and movies, but I've managed to read/see a few in my time. 


Where the Wild Things Are is a 1963 children's picture book by American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak. It has been reprinted, animated, filmed ever since. The story, which comprises just 338 words, focuses on a young boy named Max, who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks havoc through his household and is disciplined by being sent to his bedroom. As he feels agitation with his mother, Max's bedroom undergoes a mysterious transformation into a jungle environment, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the "Wild Things." After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wild Things and enjoys a playful romp with his subjects; however, he decides to return home, to the Wild Things' dismay. After arriving in his bedroom, Max discovers a hot supper waiting for him. Doesn't sound that scary, but I thought it was when I was little. 


Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

As an adult, I still find this book disturbing. The idea of creating a monster, then rejecting it, is a sad scenario, but it did open up new lines of thought about science. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by Mary Shelley about eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a grotesque creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. 

Shelley had travelled in the region of Geneva, where much of the story takes place, and the topics of galvanism and other similar occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions, particularly her future husband, Percy Shelley. The storyline emerged from a dream. Mary, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for weeks about what her possible storyline could be, Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made. She then wrote Frankenstein.

Thanks to Wikipedia for most of the information contained herein.


  1. There are a lot of blogfests this month. I'm on Roland's.

  2. Haven't read the Alchemist, but would love to. Your review makes me want to read it even more.

    Don't read or watch anything scary, at all. Can't handle it.

    1. I'm definitely not a great fan of the scary...

  3. I listen to the presidential debates ... after them, nothing is truly scary to me! You made me want to read THE ALCHEMIST! Thanks for joining my blogfest! :-)

    1. My pleasure Roland. Yes, those Presidential debates have been scary enough...who needs scary books to finish you off?

    2. Oh...and The Alchemist is a book you would enjoy I'm sure.

  4. Where the Wild things are, yes that can be a scary one for kids. I went through a phase of reading horror and watching scary movies as a teenager and young adult, but not so much now.

  5. I never read Where the Wild Things Are until I was an adult reading it to my child, and it's still a little scary.
    The Alchemist sounds like a fascinating book, I want to read it.

  6. Excellent review of The Alchemist. Makes me want to go straight to Amazon!

  7. I wouldn't say Where the Wild Things Are scared me, but I did think it was really creepy. Never liked it.

  8. I don't think I would have picked up this book by the cover or blurb but having read your review I might just go for it.

  9. My husband gave me this book when we were courting. I loved it then and I imagine I still would. It is a very pretty read.

    Very nicely-reviewed, Denise.

  10. Sounds an interesting story, will check it out.

    Dennis Wheatley books scared me as a young woman, don't suppose anyone reads them today.

  11. I wondered... I have no link for you on the list this month. I'm assuming you don't mind if I add one? This is the second such post I've found. I hope there aren't others I'm missing!

    I love Where the Wild Things Are. As far as I'm concerned, it is THE reigning masterpiece of children's picture books. I liked it as a child but grew to love it as a parent. Just about everything that man touched is magic.

    1. Armchair, there must be a techno glitch, as I was No 7 on the list at one stage.
      Year 9 studies Where the Wild Things are for the way the illustrations enhance the story. It is marvellous.

    2. In my experience, children's books either have great stories with adequate drawings or beautiful illustrations with uninteresting text. Where the Wild Things are is the one that best combines the two.

      I'll be writing more on this subject very soon...

  12. A friend of mine recommended me this book years ago but I never got around to reading it (though I did buy a copy in Spanish for my husband to practice the language). You've intrigued me enough to read it now. :)

  13. I don't remember being scared by any book as a kid - I think I was a bit macabre, I liked decapitating Troll heads. At about 12 I read Carrie - that freaked me out :)

    You are a champ taking on all these blogfests, I don't know how you keep up with them all!

  14. Am I the only person in the world who hated the Alchemist?

    1. No, AJ, many hated this little book. Some criticised even the name as really, the alchemist in the story doesn't have much of a part, but I think it's a metaphor, rather than literal.

  15. Great review Denise. I remember being scared after reading The Amityville Horror in my teens. I started looking over my shoulder after that one!

    1. Yes Nas, I couldn't think when I sat down to do this, but Picnic at Hanging Rock was a scary teen read too.

  16. Thanks for your review of The Alchemist. You've sucked me in. I've always meant to read it--now I will!

  17. This is a book I've periodically wanted to read since of course it's one of those famous literary reads, although Roberto Bolano's thoughts on it have given me recent pause. He didn't have much respect for it or Coehlo (Isabelle Allende being another example), all but considering him in the same light one might consider James Patterson, say, in comparison to Herman Melville.

  18. Hi Denise .. I thought I had The Alchemist here and now it is out for me to read ... thanks for the excellent review .. that helps and I'll be back to re-read as and when I can get to the book itself.

    I don't like frightening books either .. and I don't think I've seen a Frankenstein film ... let alone read the book ...

    Cheers Hilary


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