AndFarAway

A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation”



I was in middle school when I started noticing that Paulo Coelho was making increasing appearances in people’s lists of “Favorite books”, “Favorite authors”, and “Inspirational figures”. His books though, with their mellow covers and overtly philosophical synopses, certainly did not appeal to the teenager whose reading list was mainly made up of vampire tales, historical fiction, and sci-fi. So all throughout highschool, I never found out what the big deal about Paulo Coelho was.

Then, one day in our first year in Jordan, I found Coelho’s claim to fame, “The Alchemist”, laying on the coffee table at home (it is/was one of my brother’s favorite books), and decided to start reading it quickly out of having nothing better to do. Afterall, the book was supposed to not only be a really good read, but it was also supposed to be well, inspiring, and I always love being inspired.

Forty-five minutes later, I was sitting speechlessly on my bedroom’s floor staring at it’s last page, and thinking, “Man, people actually like this book?”

Hands down, it was one of the worst books I’ve ever read; a 100 pages of beating around the bush on how if you believe in something hard enough the whole universe will conspire to help to attain your goals. Lovely. Perfect for anyone who is naive enough to believe that there are rocks floating on air in the world and that eyes have magical powers.

“The Alchemist” is filled with simplistic spiritual cliches and philosophical buzzwords, as can be seen in excerpts such as, “The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect. God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of this wisdom.” Add to that, the language is so basic and simple that it seems to be written at a fourth grade level; warm, fuzzy spirituality crafted to appeal to those who enjoy self-help books written to sell.

I cannot say that I enjoyed any of his other books much more either. In fact, best-seller “Eleven Minutes” was probably a tad worse than “The Alchemist”.

That’s exactly why I tend to roll my eyes and say “oh, please” when someone tells me that one of their favorite authors is Paulo Coelho. Hey, at least they’re always quick reads (but Cosmopolitan tends to be much quicker, cheaper, and more ripe with food for thought).

Will someone please explain to me why the world famous “writer” and bestseller in 25 counties – Paulo Coelho – is so overrated?

Hallmark cards are more inspirational.

Follow Your Dreams, Transform Your Life! Magnet by Paulo Coelho

Other book reviews on AndFarAway:

The Mists of Avalon 
All My Friends are Superheroes 
The Lord of the Rings
His Dark Materials
Persepolis
Harry Potter
Twilight
Blood and Gold
1984
Maus
Fatal Identities
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Alchemist
Eleven Minutes

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34 Comments

  1. Perfect for anyone who is naive enough to believe that there are floating rocks in the world

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumice

    Oops! :D

  2. lol, Hamzeh! I actually meant floating on air :)

  3. Vas

    Same here, I first read him in 1991 I think, and whispered “Geee, this is crap”. Few years later he became a big story of success, …. Anyway, I think the reasons are because they are easy to read before and after they serve “chicken or beef” on a flight. because they finish fast with no major effects but a vague promise to one’s self and people get happy that they finished “a whole book”. because they have nice appearance as a gift and reasonable price. because the average taste in literature and essay in just so disappointing.

  4. Tcherryn

    Finally some one to agree with me the book sucks, and it a waste of time no offense to those of, which this book has inspired them in any way .
    sorry

  5. Ruba,

    great nice blog u have..

    i hate reading and also i have that paulo’s book ( the alchemist ) it’s thrown on my desk… a friend gave it to me and told me to do read it.. but i don’t think that i’m going to do.

  6. It was a bit of time I didn’t visit your blog and your post make me smile ;) 100% Roba style and spirit…you are really one of a kind, Roba unique example….

  7. Q

    I personally never read the book but a very close friend who did didn’t like it either. I’m guessing that the reason people like the book and the writer is the same reason that makes the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” series popular. As you nicely put it, it doesn’t have food for thought. I guess some people care more about the idea of finishing a book than the actual content of the book.

  8. QUOTE: “Add to that, the language is so basic and simple that it seems to be written at a fourth grade level; warm, fuzzy spirituality crafted to appeal to those who enjoy self-help books written to sell”

    Roba, Paulo Coelho is Brazilian, as I am sure you may know this, but you may not know that he writes in Portuguese not in English, the Alchemist as all his books are translated to many languages. I agree with you, the English translation sounds really awful at some points, however, that blame should be put on the translation not on Paulo.

    I enjoyed the Alchemist, it’s true, that it’s too spiritual and sometimes too much philosophy to comprehend (at least for me, who is not attracted much to these topics), nonetheless the story has some merits. But, more lovable to me is his latest novel “11 Minutes”, it is a very nice novel, try it! also “Veronika Decide to Die” is enjoyable, to say the least.

  9. el zalame kteer emfalsaf o 7alto 7aale…o a7la eshi bas ey2ollek el veiled women wl arab man, bet7eseeh be7ki 3an el Sinbaad hehehe…la2 bas besalli, i like 11 minutes :)

  10. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL @ The title !!! halla2 entabahet LOOOOL

  11. Ayyob

    ok this is why people call him a great seller and best seller. People now a days have ADD and can’t concentrate on books that are longer than 100 pages. These books give them excuses to say that they read “philosophical works”.

    What works and writers do you like to read?

  12. I liked “The Alchemist”

  13. Well I read ‘The Alchemist’ years ago and though a very quick read, it was kind of ‘nice’. Shortly after that, I read ‘Veronika Decides to Die’, and it was a much better read. And then three years later or something, my friends got me ‘The Zahir’ for my birthday and let’s just say that by the time I was done with it, I had had my share of Coelho. The guy is repeating the same ideas in all his books. This is a guy who is trying to write about his personal experiences and feelings and let the world know of them. Some people find it inspiring, others just don’t care. After the first one or two books, I fell in the latter category.

  14. oh boy that Wassim is in trouble :)

    ok “The Alchemist”
    Is it a great book? No, not even close

    Mr Paulo, any good as an author? at best average, if only the Jordanian public recycled as much!

    All that said, I really like “The Alchamist” certainly the first half at least.

  15. I totally agree that he is overrated,i read the Alchimist and 3 other books by him,i think its more like a bed time story,simple and amusing,and some people actually think its a philosophy book!:S its a typical commercial book!yet its his best!

  16. SomeOne

    Paulo is one of the writers I am reading these days, I like it, as Sami side and I agree with him, it’s important to read in Portuguese because it change a lot, and to know better why he writs like that, you have to read about his life and his experience.
    The fact of being big seller make me don’t start reading tell I was in Portugal living with Brazilian whom didn’t like it at all, but now I think he is OK …..

  17. A really great Brazilian Portugese writer is Jorge Amado — one of his classics is Gabriella, Clove, and Sugar.

    I think that people like the feeling that the universe is on their side — it is easy to feel lost and alone in life, and it is important that people have hope that one day they will get what they want from life. God helps those who help themselves, as they say, but I think that writers like Coelho express the same ideas that one finds in the belief that our prayers are answered by God and if we have strong faith our dreams will come true. Certainly it is new age to think that God will make our material dreams come true — that’s not such a great use of faith, but it is nice to imagine that we can achieve our dreams, even if hard work and courage and persistance are much more important that our fervert hopes on the issue.

  18. Brent

    Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon is the title, not Clove and Sugar.

  19. Ola

    It was a nice book to read, a bit stupid but it was nice :D

    I also read Al-zahir, a traumatic experience, it was by far the worst book I’ve read, bored me to death!

  20. Elizabeth Wurtzel, peoples

  21. I still can’t believe what I have just read!

    Paulo Coelho is my favourite writer. He is just amazing. There is no way that I can read any of his books quickly. There are many things to think about it every sentence of his work. I usually try to finish a chapter or 2 at a time in order to be able to absorb what he is trying to do.

    Yes, the language isn’t that hard, but it doesn’t have to be. I am pleased with it just like it is.

    While the Alchemist was the gate that introduced him to the world, I don’t find it as its best work. Yes, its idea is nice. When there is a well there is a way. It is inspirational. In fact, we all can observe our own lives. It is true. When someone wants something so bad, everything in the world conspires to help him achieve his goals.

    I dont blame Ola for feeling this way about Al-Zahir, it is the worst of his work that I read, well I read another one that I didnt like which is The Valkries.

    The Piligrimage is nice. Eleven Minutes is very nice. Veronika Decides to Die is the Best. I think Veronika is his master peace. I recommend all to read it. I just finished it yesterday and will be posting 2-3 posts about things that really stopped me in it.

  22. ” 100 pages of beating around the bush on how if you believe in something hard enough the whole universe will conspire to help to attain your goals.”

    That’s not the point, if you look deeper, its beautiful simplistic point is about knowledge and discovery, of one’s existence, which is a life long quest.

  23. Well this is not strange at all , think of it as the movie “Sideways” …

    most of the people , even people that i admire their taste , didnt like that movie and found it boring … my heart was beating so fast you would think i was watching The Omen … people now fail to see beauty in its abstract form … i dont claim i see it … but at least i was in touch with the experience when i saw that movie …

    this man knows how to write ,,, but we fail to understand ! think of his book as abstract art … it has been there for so long but most people … especially in the middle east … fail to see how THAT can be considered art !

    same with modern , interpetive or lyrical dancing , and the list can go on and on and on … Harsh Truth eh …

    Thanks for reading this , and please try to put up with me :) somtimes am so intolerable …

  24. this post really really made me wanna read his book
    i have a special attraction to crappy books

  25. Tomer

    People like the Alchemist for the same reason they like pop music… it makes them feel fuzzy inside. It might not be complex or interesting, but it is easy for them to digest and “understand”

    I think most people who love the Alchemist haven’t been exposed or haven’t given much time to reading, they opened a book which is easy to read, feeds you with a spoon and tells you how wonderful the world is.

    Sort of like Icecream :)

    (I hate all his books, but i understand why people like them…)

  26. you know how I feel about him!

  27. Quoting Tomer :
    ” I think most people who love the Alchemist haven’t been exposed or haven’t given much time to reading, they opened a book which is easy to read, feeds you with a spoon and tells you how wonderful the world is. ”

    and how exactly did you figure that out?

  28. Hareega, you can start with “Veronika Decide to Die” first then read the Alchemist….

  29. N

    Veronica decides to die is his best work, eleven minutes is trash, and most people outgrow him after a while. He’s good at a certain phase in your life.

  30. Well Roba, I disagree with you on this one, but I understand what you’re trying to say.

    I dislike PEOPLE, who think that only because they’ve read famous best-sellers such as The Alchemist and Angels & Demons, that they have reached the epitome in reading. I just can’t stand that type of person. People who mistake “hearing” or “reading the title of the book” for actual reading and savoring a book’s pages.

    However, I don’t think that ANY book in this world is a bad book, I simply do not believe in such a thing. Books are a lot like Arts, there’s no bad art, and good art. It’s all relative, and it all depends on your perception, and how you think of a book, or an art piece.

    When judging a work of art, I prefer using terms like “I don’t like this book”, but not judging a book that it is a complete disaster. Because simply put, since it’s a book by itself, it should be cherished and appreciated.

    I understand that you are somewhat ticked off by the hype it had generated, since hypes are just downright tacky, and I admit that I’m not into anything that attracts every Tom, Dick and Harry. But even if the book attracted much attention, it still shouldn’t be judged. It’s art.

  31. hey Roba, I just read this and I agree with you on a couple of things but I also agree with the observer, The alchemist was too simple and I agree with you it is overrated cz based on the reviews I heard I thought it’d be much better!
    but I read the Zahir after, and although the story is a little boring (he’s looking for his wife all the story long),it is much better than The Alchemist and it’s like he’s talking about himself and the feedback he gets on his books and analyzes his relationship with his wife in a beautiful way , and I highlighted many sentences in it cz they made me stop and think like the observer said, although fadi thought it was his worst book :P

    I still haven’t read eleven minutes nor Veronika decides to die, but I absolutely will.

  32. layla

    i think the alchemist is a beautiful story. it’s not trying to beat around the bush. it was being simple. it was telling a story of self discovery. there’s no point to reading it if the character makes the self discovery early on in the book. this book inspires you to keep trying and to keep believing. it gives you strength and comfort into believing that there’s a reason for everything happening and it’s all for the greater good. I can go on and on.

    I think coelho wrote this book from the heart. the devil and miss prim, veronika decides to die and the fifth mountain were all from the heart. they were good books that forced readers to think about their lives.

    BUT

    once he became insanely famous, his books deteriorated into trashy romance novels. 11 minutes? are you kidding me? he couldn’t write from a woman’s perspective if a woman narrated it to him word for word! zahir? i didn’t even bother reading past the first page. and above all, what started as a humble spiritual man writing spiritual books ended up a superficial diva! all he cares about is writing uninspiring shallow stories that he can sell en mass and make lots of dosh.

    shame.

  33. I’m with Roba on this one. I was lent a copy of a Coelho book by a friend who claimed it was really inspiring! 3 Chapters later, I was completely bored, and gave it back. In fact it was so unmemorable I can’t tell you the name of the book!

  34. Ben

    Well, its fiction.

    Why treat it as nonfiction and make a fuss about it?

    In fictional worlds, if you believe hard enough, the Universe will do whatever the author wills it to do.

    :)

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