Posted in 2 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho


Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Philosophy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 
May 1, 1993 (first published 1988)
Formats Available: 
Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, Audio


Combining magic, mysticism, wisdom and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery, The Alchemist has become a modern classic, selling millions of copies around the world and transforming the lives of countless readers across generations. 

Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different–and far more satisfying–than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams. 


This book has been on my mental to-read shelf for years for several different reasons. For one, I fell in love with Latin American literature during college, when I was studying the Spanish language. Even though this book was originally written in Portuguese, it seemed to have all of those delightful elements I adored in authors like Gabriel García Márquezand Jorge Luis Borges: magical realism, mysticism, and of course, alchemy.

For those who are unfamiliar, I love alchemy and its presence in literature, both overtly and symbolically. I encountered it first in a reading of Michel Butor’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape: A Caprice, and subsequently gobbled it up in Borges’ Ficciones, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Alchemy is why I have a developing love for Medieval literature. Alchemy is everything.

So, understandably, I expected to fall in love with this book. I didn’t. In fact, I struggled to finish it. I imagine that had it been any longer, I probably would have set it down, but the story was only 167 pages long. I couldn’t give up on something so short.

There is no question that Paulo Coelho is a gifted writer. He knows how to construct a beautiful sentence, and his imagery is superb. The premise of the story, too, is good: the classic hero’s quest, in which a simple shepherd boy follows a long string of omens to seek after treasure promised him in a dream. Over the course of his journey he suffers loss and encounters peril, but through this also achieves wisdom, understanding, and enlightenment.

But overall, this superficial goodness could not secure my heart in favor ofThe Alchemist. Perhaps I would have appreciated it more had Coelho given me the chance, but with each page I felt like he was bludgeoning me to death with the point. The text was overly repetitive, to point that I considered playing some kind of drinking game every time a character mentioned “the Soul of the World,” “the Language of the World,” or “Personal Legends.” This book read like a pretentious New Age self-help book, rather than a modern classic.

Perhaps I went in with expectations set entirely too high. I wanted another One Hundred Years of Solitude, or at least something similar. That isn’t what I received. If you have read and enjoyed Paulo Coelho’s other works, you may enjoy this one as well, but otherwise, I can’t think of anyone I would recommend this to.



Olivia Ard is the author of women's fiction trilogy The Bennett Series and Readers' Favorite 5-Star recipient 'Tis the Season. She is pursuing a second degree in sociology. She and her husband JD live in Central Alabama, where they await their miracle baby's arrival this November with joyful expectation.

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