Thursday, April 02, 2015

"The Alchemist" and "The Pilgrimage"; are they books for self-abosorbed Yuppies?

I recently read those two books, then came across this article in the New Yorker, about the author, Paulo Coelho. It's long, but an interesting read. There was one part, quoting one of his literary critics from his native Brazil, that I've excerpted below:

The Magus
The astonishing appeal of Paulo Coelho
[...] Mário Maestri, a history professor at the University of Passo Fundo and one of the few Brazilian critics who does not reflexively dismiss Coelho, has written, “In spite of belonging to different genres, Coelho’s narratives and self-help books have the same fundamental effect: of anesthetizing the alienated consciousness through the consoling reaffirmation of conventions and prevailing prejudices. Fascinated by his discoveries, the Coelhist reader explores the familiar, breaks down doors already open, and gets mired in sentimental, tranquilizing, self-centered, conformist, and spellbinding visions of the world that imprisons him. When he finishes a book, he wants another one that will be different but absolutely the same.” Maestri calls the work “yuppie esoteric narrative.” As if to prove the point, this winter Starbucks distributed five million Venti cups printed with a Coelho quote: “Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. . . .” [...]
Ouch! Sharp criticism, yet one could argue that "He makes that sound like a bad thing". I think much of what Mário said is true. Yet the very things he cites have also made Coelho a best-selling author, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author. Yuppies buy books, so Coelho can laugh all the way to the bank.

Despite his popularity with the demos (or, because of it?), he's a controversial and eccentric figure. I found the interview interesting. He claims, among other things, that his book "The Pilgrimage" is responsible for the revival of interest in the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, a journey he himself has made. And looking at the statistics for travelers, what he says may well be true.

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