Sunday, January 28, 2007

International best selling phenomenon!!!

So… what to say about The Alchemist

I am not sure whether I should just like this book, or admit its obvious faults.

I have read this book two times already (side note to Jon—I have also read, and own: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Times of Cholera, Collected Stories , Chronicle of a Love Foretold and Of Love and Other Demons [response to your quote = “I'd wager that the market for Coelho and the market for García Márquez, vast as they both are, are also almost entirely distinct: i.e. that those who read the former hardly ever read the latter, or vice versa.”]), though to be fair, it is the only Coelho I have read. The first time I read it was in a hammock, in the rainforest in Guatemala with an overfed Spider monkey in my lap (long story but I assure you its true) and the second time while backpacking through Cambodia so, maybe it was due to context, or maybe I am just as cheezy as the book, but I really loved it. Ok, it’s not the most complicated read, but I don’t always have the mental energy to tackle a Pynchon and decipher between 600 or so characters. And no, Coelho’s no García Márquez, nor is he a Rushdie, but The Alchemist is an inspirational story that even an educated person can enjoy— despite eye-rolling lines like “a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible to realize their Personal Legend” (21).

Hard core lit-snobs can call me silly and throw books at me, but I think I am going to have the courage of my convictions and continue to enjoy this simple piece of literature that takes itself too seriously, just because it brings me joy. And because of that, I will not call it bad literature. It’s hard to remain objective when something is personal, and I am not ready to become cynical enough to dismiss the messages within the text. I may be too idealistic but I think that because of its inspirational quality, it has cultural worth. However, I am not ready to jump up and join Coelho’s nutty fan club, nor become some deranged Warrior of Light.
Also, it may be possible that the Portuguese version sounds more poetic and thus not as cheezy.


Gillian said...

That's cool that you read it while you were also travelling, I bet that would totally make a difference...I didn't like it very much, which made me sad becuase I've heard so many good things. I would like to comment on your last line, that it probably sounds less cheesy in Portugese...I tried to keep in mind that it is in translation when I was reading it, and I think it would make a huge difference...maybe it would be interesting to read a paragraph in Portugese then the same paragraph in English aloud in class to see if it sounds less cheesy...althoguh I suppose not understanding the Portugese words would make this an obviously flawed experiment. Maybe I'll propose it to Jon anyway.

Anonymous said...

I basically thought the exact same thing! It was quite obvious the flaws in terms of the obvious simplicity, and the fact that at times it was trying to be too "deep" and ended up being even more simple. However, I took the book (more or less) for what it was, and I actually really quite enjoyed reading it, especially since I identified with Santiago, and the Alchemist, etc.

Jon said...

For what it's worth, my understanding is that Coelho routinely hands in his manuscripts in Portuguese that still retain numerous errors (of grammar and spelling, for instance), and that he sometimes insists that these errors remain in the published version. By contrast, translators generally iron these flaws out.

Marina said...

ashea good call identifying that the text takes itself too seriously-well not the text but the author/fans thereafter- i couldnt quite put my finger on what irked me about it all, having enjoyed the book myself, and that's it: i wish it was what it was, a good story with an idealistic message but maybe one worth the reminder once in a while, instead of getting blown out of proportion as some sort of new age bible.... so thanks for articulating that thought for me! (and for sharing your many other good thoughts)

dacamili said...

i think a lot of people are simply not taking the book for what it is, but are labelling it a wanna-be-bible, or a self-help book... i see no reason to do this really. not once did this book appear to me as a self-help guide to life. it was just a nice little story with a message along the lines of :don't be greedy in life and the rewards will come on their own; don't live for the future, but live in the moment. yes, maybe we've all heard our share of this message, but the fact that so many enjoy this book seems to prove that we all forget it. and yes, we'll forget it again, but it's nice to be reminded. as simple as it really is.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that despite the criticisms the book received in class you still stick to how you feel about it. I read it many years ago as well and I did thought it was inspirational. However, as I read it again, it has many faults but I agree with you that maybe this book shouldn't be taken so seriously.

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