The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - book review

Fiction; HarperCollins Publishers India; 177 pages; translated from Portuguese by Alan R. Clark

My rating - 1.5/5

The outstanding sales of the book (over 20 million, according to the publisher's blurb) made me interested in The Alchemist. Google search revealed the summary, which was not bad; and the book cover, which was impressive.

But after finishing the novel I found it to be utterly nonsensical. This is a fiction novel bordering on, and many times even crossing into, the fantasy genre which seem to be a construct of a confused and scattered mind. (In his early age, Coelho was put into a mental asylum thrice, by the way.)

Rules of reality are sometimes obeyed, sometimes bent, and sometimes broken without any explanations as to how and why that is being done.

Summary of The Alchemist

Santiago, the protagonist, is a shepherd in the Andalusian part of Spain who is a traveler presently taking shelter in a ruined church. He has a recurring dream, authenticated to be true by a gypsy, that he will find a treasure in the pyramids of Egypt.

The king of Salem (and we are not told where on earth this Salem is), offers him his help because Santiago has discovered his destiny and he was unaffected by the "mysterious force" that convinces people to not to discover it.

The king says when someone really wants something it's because the desire originated in the "soul of the universe". Perhaps the line (very absurd, by the way) which has become most famous is:

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

This sentence, like some others, is unnecessarily repeated again and again in the book. (The Bollywood movie Om Shanti Om used the above line several times in the movie without any reference to Coelho.)

Santiago loses his skepticism after the king proves his wisdom by telling him his private secrets and embarks on the treasure hunt after selling away all his sheep, taking careful notes of all the omens that the king said will lead his path.

But when Santiago gets robbed off of all his money in Tangier, he has to do a job in a crystal shop and gives away all aspirations of the treasure. The way he works and helps the shop owner to take his shop to new heights is the only part of the novel which rings real.

After an year, he manages to collect a good sum of money and decides to restart the treasure search not only because an omen tells him so but also because two stones transmit "to him the strength and will of the old king."

He travels along with a caravan and befriends a 200 year old alchemist on his way who helps him in his treasure hunt. But on their way they are caught by tribesmen under the suspicion of spying and are threatened with death.

But surprise, surprise.

Santiago talks to the desert and the desert informs him to address the wind and the wind commissions him to request the heaven and so he pleads to the sun and the sun directs him to the "hand that wrote all", and so he ends up praying to the "hand that wrote all" to turn him into wind! And he really turns himself into wind then back into human and in the process discovers the "language of the desert and the wind" and the "Soul of the World" and hence the tribesmen let him go.

How to write a book? A seven step guide

Word by word.

That’s the answer Stephen King gave when he was asked how he writes. And that’s the answer to the question: How to write a book?

So if you are looking for a quick answer, I’ll just say there it is and will rest my case.

But I presume you’re looking for a detailed answer. If so, read on.

You’ve long felt that you have a book in you—you have a message to convey, something important to say, perhaps a brilliant story to tell—but you don’t get the time to write. Life keeps getting in.

You have a day job to maintain, look after your family, catch-up with friends, watch the latest movies, and hence writing that book keeps getting pushed down in your To-do list.

You think you’ll write the book when you get some time but you never get that time.

I know, I know. I’ve been there.

One fine day I sat down to write my book but didn’t finish the work. I couldn’t.

I was working as a full time content writer then and the job was very demanding. The weekends were spent resting.

Although I wrote whenever I could find time, it wasn’t sufficient.

It took me around one and a half year of intermittent work just to finish the first draft! Then a further three months of full time work to redraft, re-edit, and refine it.

You can download my book Concision's PDF version for free to see how it looks.

Although I wrote non-fiction, a lot of the lessons I learned in the process and which I’ve written below, apply to fiction as well.

I understand how much work goes into the writing of a book. And if you don’t have a burning passion for it within you then you won’t finish writing it.

So before telling you how to write a book let me first give you some motivational reasons on why you should write a book in the first place.

It’s about satisfying your ego

Yes that is a motivation.

George Orwell in his essay Why I Write says one of the reasons that motivate him to write is the

How to sell 330 million books–eight lessons from Jeffrey Archer

So you want to write a bestseller? Then learn from the master of the trade. In case you don’t know, Jeffrey Archer is a writer based in England who has written several novels, short stories, autobiographical books, plays, and screenplays. He is best known for his novel Kane and Abel which sold more than 34 million copies and is under its 94th reprint.

I’m his fan and when I came across the following interview, I found some good tips in it for writers which I’m sharing below. Although this interview is not entirely about writing–he is speaking about other things too like movies and cricket–I have extracted only those points which will help writers.

Also because he’s mainly a fiction author, he’s mainly talking about fiction writing. However I feel most of this advice will apply to all sorts of writers.

The complete interview ran to three videos. The first one is embedded below.

1) If your one book becomes a bestseller, others too will

After loosing all his investments in a Canadian company, he was left with a debt of £427,727 and was on the verge of bankruptcy.

So he sat down to write his first novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less but managed to sell only 3,000 copies. But he didn’t give up. He kept writing and his fourth novel, Kane and Abel became a huge success.

But here’s the deal.

After this success his first book too picked up on sales and sold 27 million copies!

The 80/20 rule–your biggest time management weapon

A version of this article was originally published in Lifehacker India.

“There are no shortcuts to success.”

I say in all seriousness this is a big lie repeated by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, in 1999, an ordinary guy challenged a professional fighter for the Chinese Kickboxing National Championships. This guy himself admits he wasn’t good at kickboxing and had only four weeks to prepare.

What would have happened?

He won not only that match but all the subsequent matches of the series and walked away as a gold medalist and as the national champion!

What was the reason for his success?
It is the same reason why some students who study day and night manage to score only mediocre grades while some others who study only an hour or two a day top the exams.

It is the same reason why some employees have to stay late in the office to complete the day’s work while some others manage to finish hours before the closing time.

Now that I have your attention, a definition is in order.

Five reasons why freelance writers should write an e-book

A version of this article was originally published in Indian Freelance Writers.

Thou shalt now be pronounced author—ever wanted to hear that about you?

Of course you have. As a freelance writer you’ve written a lot for your clients, written a lot for your blog, and you have plans to write an e-book someday but life keeps getting in.

You have to acquire more clients, moderate comments, reply to e-mails, look after your family, go to the market, and hence writing that e-book keeps getting pushed down in your To-do list.

You think you’ll write the book when you’ll get some time but you never get that time.

I know, I know. That has happened to me.

One fine day I sat down to write my book but didn’t complete the work. I couldn’t.

I was working on a full time job of content writer which was quite demanding and the weekends were spent resting. Though I did work whenever I could find time, it wasn’t enough.

It took me about one and a half year of intermittent work just to complete the first draft! And a further three months to refine, redraft, and re-edit it.

You can download the final version of my book Concision for free to see how it looks now.

To cut the long story short, I understand how long and tedious a book writing process is. And if you don’t have a strong reason or a good motivation to pursue it, you will lose heart and won’t complete the book.

In this article I intend to give you some reasons and motivations to complete that draft which is collecting dust in your hard drive.