April 27, 2012


“The Alchemist”

Book review by: Ndue Ukaj

Part I

TheAlchemistTranslated from Albanian: Peter Tase


Paulo Coelho, is a distinguished Brazilian author with universal dimensions, his novels have awakened a great interest in the international community of writers, while attracting the endless number of readers across the Earth’s meridians. Today, Coelho is self established as a universal literary phenomenon. His literature is dynamically and vividly written; it rises from the human experiences and penetrates through every individual, each one’s existence, while fulfilling the numerous absences.  His style introduces many realities shaped under the literary system which places on the weight scale the good and the ugly. Coelho writes a genre of literature dedicated to the person, his demands, his loses and pains as well as his care for his identity.  Therefore it converses with the person, with the language of immortality that vitalizes the language which runs through the alchemy of a writing style with universal messages, which Coelho constantly has gathered them from biblical contexts.

Indeed, he has a biblical style consequently he has absorbed with a high level of mastery this magnum opus inside his literature, not only in the topic level but also in his vibrant discourse. As a writer, Paulo Coelho is presented before the meadow of literature, as an author with an unusual creative potential, he is a writer that owns the art of confession in a masterful fashion which creates attractive and admired stories.

What are the distinctive features of Paulo Coelho’s literature?  

In addition to his style which selects various intriguing narrative subjects, Coelho has a flamboyant imagination and a magic technique how to tell a story, he transmits messages, with vibrant texts, which are well known to be endless sources of relevance in philosophy, psychology and theology.  As Friedrich Hegel would say, these are texts that emerge from the soul and their destination is the human character. Paulo Coelho with his novel “The Alchemist,” has not only reached a world record; he appears as a specific model of narration before the World of literature, a new tradition which leaves ample space for multiple analysis and literary interpretations.

The lyrics and prose of “The Alchemist,” are built with simple style, its content has a thin implicit layer of philosophy, which speaks through symbols, textual recollections and inter-textual levels of meaning.  The author has knitted the text through the linear unfolding, which is very similar to the genre of magic realism. Truthfully, his style is a brilliant mirror image of a gigantic literature, constructed inside a huge literary grid, where the universal literature and cultural codes coexist while being continuously revitalized. These codes are reconstructed and have reappeared thanks to the skillful perceptions of Coelho.  He is a famous master of narrative, he would enliven every character, while cheerfully shaping various plot sequences, and transform the past as part of the contemporary through the cultural, religious and symbolical memories. Indeed, “The Alchemist” is navigating through all these semantic layers which represent philosophical, religious and ethical messages.

The works of Coelho, generally – with an exception on “The Alchemist” – are emerging as a representation where literature finds strong connection with dialogue and has discovered the mirror of self-identification with the art of literature, therefore the individual is faced with eternal challenges that engulf him every instant as well as on every corner of the space. Thanks to the masterful literary discourse; the uncompromised writer, always is in search of a magic depth, where only the supernatural alchemists can penetrate in order to earn the goods reserved for them and to display those as a shining meteor before his audience: the reader.  In respect to the definition that literature is considered a dialogue between  the author and the reader, Coelho has accomplished this task with an energized dialogue and concludes by saying that: “The work is considered outstanding only when its purpose is accomplished.”

Allegorical Novel  

“The Alchemist” is an Allegorical Novel. The author as an expert takes the reader into dramatic situations, with many adventures so he can return at the point of departure right where the story ends. The end reveals vigorously the purpose of the text. Everything is developed inside a masterful narration, where the rhythm of assertion, proceeds gradually with the structure and selection of the story. The allegory is an overwhelming implicit feature in the novel, covered by a symbolic language which is present throughout the text.  This lurch of narration is attained with dynamic literary sequences that keep the reader breathless up to the epilogue of the story, when the author selected the most paradox fable and surprisingly takes the reader at the point of departure. However, according to Umberto Eco, the author, as a great master of story telling, understands that the literary text is an open structure; this is why he creates images and sometimes multiple images that allow the possibility for an infinite understanding.  Coelho does not conclude this novel with an epilogue; in reality, at this stage the literary nuances are just starting, present with hermeneutical interpretations, are searching the significance of symbolic and allegorical elements which the author controls amazingly. In the mean time textual and semi logic analysis, represent the organizational symbols and the structure of a text which is built inside a literary communication system that considers literature as a dialogue, as a culture and vice versa. Literature and Culture are two worlds that influence each other.

Inter-textual course of the prose  

According to Roland Barthes, a French philosopher, in the philosophy of literature, the inter text is focused on that every text is an inter text, or said simply, the literature is a dialogue, where every text and author is dependable on other texts, whether it has the writer’s consent or not; Coelho is aware of this element and this is the reason why his characters emerge as explicit and implicit at times.  The novel is starting with an explicit reference, which entangles the biblical discourse and the Bible itself in its content, as part of the configuration of his literary fiction; meanwhile in continuation of his narrative, he absorbs his literary experience, the elements of inter-textual philosophy and presents his discourse in a more sophisticated way, just like in his description of biblical shepherds. Definitely, this novel has an organizational structure, similar to a virtual circle, around which is gyrating the character named Santiago and the reader of this prose.

The author begins to develop the character from one standpoint and that is the dream, which is experienced by everyone; and that as a literary reference plays a specific role on the novel, which intertwines the empirical textual elements with the inter text philosophy of his literature. The dream motivates the continuation of the story, but in the end, the character is awakened from the illusion caused by it and returns into reality.

Seen under the lenses of inter-textual philosophy the dream resembles with the familiar biblical messages. On the dream it is said to Joseph to get married with Mary because there will be born the savior of the World. Meanwhile in the dream he is told to disappear from Herod, who is willing to kill the child, the savior of Humanity. These elements are literary significant for the author, from which he constructs his ideas and purposes for this story.  From here, the dream and reality are shown as overwhelming characteristics which play a typical role in the novel.  In the interim, on the aspect of literary significance, these two characteristics are points of view in order to understand the literary intention of the author, a purpose which corresponds deeply with the great biblical and symbolical codes, which Coelho utilizes skillfully not only in this novel but also in his other writings.

In the middle of the dream’s symbolism and reality, are rising many fantastic pages, where the author is taking for a walk in the desert his hero named Santiago, introduces him with the challenges of love, war and a myriad of experiences; in the end, after a long voyage full of obstacles, returns his hero where he was before, to his identity. The substance of the novel is the return and the discovery of identity. This is why, in order to be happy, the main character doesn’t need to go through that voyage, indeed the opposite is true, Santiago didn’t realize that he had everything in his hometown, where he had a decent life of a shepherd nearby the church of his place of birth in Spain.

What encouraged the main character to undertake this voyage was the interest for knowledge and desire to search the predestined treasury, the need to fulfill the personal history, the search for happiness and the desire to follow the dream. “I am an adventurer in search of my treasures – His thought emerged before getting lost in a silent sleep” – This follower of “The Alchemist” is essentially the principal core of the story.  In truth, this reference is shown as the paradigm of this novel’s main hero, the young boy named, Santiago, from Andalusia, Spain, when his life as a shepherd was erupted by a dream and undertakes a voyage to unknown places, towards the Pyramids of Egypt, where hidden treasures were for him in this location. This journey, is a magical expedition, amidst many wonders, through which, the author vitalizes an event constructed with many experiences towards life, love and war.

In this voyage, the character named Santiago is encountering different people, is faced with local wars, had to cross the dessert and is challenged by a fiery love deep inside his soul. With many obstacles, he finally arrives at the pre-arranged place and right there the story takes us back to the beginning of the novel, because he finds out that in order to find the treasure it is unnecessary to walk long distances, instead the treasure is to be found right where he departed from, in his hometown. Therefore the hero of the novel finds the treasure nearby the church of Andalusia in his home country of Spain, a place where he became a shepherd before experiencing the dream which took him strain into a long expedition. This epilogue is the paradox of the novel and at the same time is the essence of the aesthetic and semantic dimension of this interesting plot, which has been considered as one of the most read novels of the last century. Coelho’s prose overall, and “The Alchemist” in particular, is magically written, inside which, appear many levels of literary discourse. The author creates a deep philosophical text, where the literary ideas are arranged inside a series of symbols and thematic codes that are vitalized by human memory. The semantic dimension and ambiguous levels of story telling, with empirical functional distractions, are typical characteristics of Coelho’s technique in many literary stages. “The Alchemist” according to its theme of narration is built upon the use of literary references.

In this aspect, the author’s text of reference is the Bible, from which is adopting a few text lines and symbolism, as discourses and thematic codes, that are spread in the narrative dialogue and create an ambivalent storyline, which expresses the author’s philosophy of return.  That arrival is considered by the author as the great come back to identity, to the eternal values that are the treasures of love.  In truth, the Bible and biblical fragments are utilized by the author towards completely fulfilling the artistic requirements of his novel. In this fable, biblical discourse remains as the major element in storytelling. And through this semantic axle, are articulated many wide and overarching views of the individual’s life, a life, which the author always knows how to furnish it, with a universal character.

This way of writing, is dramatic and emotional, because it touches complex phenomenon which are connected with great topics of human mentality, its existence, his relation with religion, identity and eschatology.  In the same vain it is connected to the loss and the search for the lost items.  The novel has a flexible plot, which is realized through the excellent literary processes and a system of articulating the modern prose in such a way that it emphasizes the concise dialogues and a vivid narrative, which contain fluidity and emotional expressions, such elements that make this prose to be read with passion.

The timely expansion of the narrative, and the figurative language are very significant, together with poetical coherence they are some other characteristics that exemplify this brilliant prose.  In these poetical – literary elements, the magic story telling is a predominant characteristic, which continues and becomes clear in harmony with the novel, which walks towards the purpose combined with search and discovery. This style of writing, engulfs in itself a penetrating power of narration, where is beating an energetic philosophy built with great literary skill, it departs with the presentation of the literary hero as the main theme that is constantly surrounded by the story telling throughout the content of “The Alchemist.”

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