Beale Reviews Coelho

This is far afield of law, but it’s Sunday and there will be time enough to return to law in the coming week.

On the recommendation of various relatives and sundry others, I recently listened to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in the car.  It was recommended to me as representing an interesting new spiritual and mystical sensibility–an author who took the claims of religion seriously but explored them in novel ways.

I detested it.  I found it empty and pretentious, and pretentious about its emptiness.  It was truly one of the worst books I’ve listened to.  Coelho’s intolerably schmaltzy themes in the book are about pursuing one’s dreams (“Personal Legend”) and that nobody but you can help you to know and achieve your star.  Here is an absolutely splendid review by Victoria Beale that does justice to the novel, and remarks on similar themes in his other work, which it appears I won’t be reading.  From the review:

What is it in Coelho’s writing that has convinced so many millions of readers of his sagacity? In part, it is the universality of his central theme: A young person sets out on a spiritual quest, discovers that his elders are no wiser than he is, and ultimately realizes the power for change comes from within . . . . The worst aspect of Coelho (setting aside the fuzzy prose, which does a good job of concealing the greater flaws) is his absolute failure to genuinely, movingly, and convincingly, depict pain and suffering—the types of obstacles that positive thinking, however forceful, often cannot overcome . . . . This isn’t surprising. A realistic depiction of human difficulties would invalidate Coelho’s core teaching: every obstacle is surmountable and believing is all. The Alchemist lays out the grim future for those who don’t yearn sufficiently for their destiny: “Most people see the world as a threatening place and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.’’ This is the alarming flipside of Coelho’s vapid optimism: Anyone in dire circumstances is suffering because they think it’s possible to suffer.

For a serious religious meditation by a Portuguese writer–a hard-core atheist with a knack for describing the human condition–may I humbly recommend the  novels of the late José Saramago, especially his excellent Blindness.

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