June 15, 2007 archive

The Alchemist – Book Review

But if you believe yourself worthy of the the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here. – by Paulo Coelho in the introduction to The Alchemist, November 2002-

Until today, I had not read anything by Paulo Coelho – in fact, I knew next to nothing about him or his writing. After devouring The Alchemist in about 2 hours, I am certain I will be reading more of his work.

The Alchemist is a simple and wise little story about Santiago the shepherd boy who travels from the fields of Spain to the Egyptian Pyramids seeking a treasure he has dreamed about. Santiago meets a gypsy woman, a King, an Englishman and an alchemist who all impart their wisdom to him and help him on his journey. Along the way, Santiago learns about God and life and love – and the reader begins to realize that in simplicity there lies a broader truth.

It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them. -From The Alchemist, page 15-

Coelho has written a novel which is pure and unembellished in its prose; one that will resonate with people of all faiths; a story which testifies to the power of following one’s dreams and listening to one’s heart.

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. – From The Alchemist-

The Alchemist is a must read and one I highly recommend.

Lessons from The Alchemist (possible spoilers below!):

…and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises. -page 27-

There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words… -page 43-

When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision. -page 68-

“Everyone has his or her own way of learning things,” he said to himself. “His way is isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.” -page 84-

It is said that all people who are happy have God within them. -page 131-

“When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.” -page 134-

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure. -page 141-

…when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too. -page 150-

And that’s where the power of love comes in.  Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are. -page 151-

The Flea Palace – Book Review

To acquire items so as to use them for awhile and then throw them in the garbage, is a habit germane to those who believe themselves to be in possession of these items. Yet objects have no possessors. If anything they have their stories, and at times it is these stories that have possession of the people who have meddled with them… -From The Flea Palace, page 403-

The Flea Palace was short listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2006 and so I had high hopes for it.  Elif Shafak has created a meandering novel filled with odd and flawed characters – all living in a run down apartment building in Istanbul. The blurb on the back of the book states: ‘…we have a metaphoric conduit for the cultural and spiritual decay at the heart of Istanbul.‘ Perhaps my boredom with this novel stems from my ignorance of the culture and religion of Turkey.

Shafak begins the novel in reverse – starting in the present, spiraling back to the past, then surging forward into the future. She presents Agripina Fyodorovna Atipova, a white Russian with a tragic background whose husband ultimately brings her to Istanbul and builds a magnificent apartment building atop an old cemetery. The BonBon Palace becomes the setting for the rest of the novel.

I have to give Shafak a little credit – she develops rich characters who people the story with their oddities. The problem is the story itself, which is so convoluted at times it is difficult to follow its purpose. I must admit to feeling a bit like one of the characters when he observes: ‘So many details, so many introductory statements, so many stories whirling circles within circles that never get to the point…

There is a mystery (where is the stench around BonBon Palace coming from!??!) and Shafak eventually ties up the  loose ends – but ultimately the novel did not capture me and I was glad to turn the final page and move onto my next book.

Not recommended.

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