Over the past two weeks I finished both Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Before you congratulate me on finishing two books in such a quick time frame I must confess that both books are only about 150 pages, I read slowly. Anyways…
I find it ironic that I read both of these novels back to back as both have very similar themes. I kind of knew what The Alchemist was about but I really was not sure exactly what Siddhartha was about. I did not intend to read these books in succession, sometimes life is not without a sense of irony.
Siddhartha was good but not as well written in my opinion compared to The Alchemist. The story flowed but I found it hard to stay focused on the story at times. The story is written in a weird structure with choppy sentences. I have never read a book structured like this before. It almost appeared to be a play or a rough draft that did not have the finishing touches of an editor.
Were it not for the ending I would say that I did not care a great deal for it. The story tells of a young man who is always looking for the truths of life. He spends his entire life searching for something that he is not even sure of. I do not want to give away all its secrets but there are some interesting ideas and revelations in the book. While looking his whole life he realizes that some of the most important things were right in front of him. The last chapter to me ties the whole book together for several reasons. One it is all the knowledge and wisdom that Siddhartha has gathered and he tries to explain it to his friend whom he has not seen in many years. Second, the points he makes are very good and even though the book was written almost 100 years ago (1922) its message still holds true today.
One thing I really liked about the book was that even though the book is short you get to see that main characters’ whole life, or at least almost his whole life. I often find it sometimes strange that when writing a book or whatever the author only shows what happens to the main character for a brief time period. Usually until the bad guy is defeated or a cure is found for the zombie apocalypse, but what happens after that? After the hero defeats the bad guy, saves the President, and gets the girl does he go back to his day job? I know no one wants to read about a guy who gets up and goes to work every day just like us normal people do. We like reading about the periods of people’s lives that are extraordinary whether it be fiction or nonfiction. I am guilty of that as well, but it is also nice to read a story where you follow the character through their whole life. To me you always feel more attached to the character because you know what they have gone through along the way. Then at the end of the book the character is more complete in my opinion.
Now that I think about it this may be the first fiction story that I have read where the reader sees the whole life of the main character. I wrote a short story/script of a story similar to this, similar in the sense that you get to see the whole characters’ life through the story. It is about a super hero and the story follows his whole life. When I wrote it I wanted to do a more real super hero, if there is such a thing. I wanted a character that was different from you and I, but at the end of the day shared a lot of the same characteristics, problems that we mere mortals had. Perhaps one day I will try and publish the story. Siddhartha is a good read and you should check it out if you are wanting something to read that will make you put your thinking cap on.
Now, on to The Alchemist.
I enjoyed this book as well. It was better written than Siddhartha and read easily and quickly. The story moved at a lightening pace but still had enough detail that you were not left in the cold wondering what places or the setting looked like.
The story is about a young shepherd boy who drops everything he knows and leaves to find a treasure that he saw in a dream. The story focuses on his journey as he meets and helps some interesting people along the way. It also tells about what he learns along the way in trying to find his “Personal Legend.” I could have over read what the “Personal Legend” is but it does not really say exactly. The book gives enough clues as to what it means.
There are a few interesting ideas about a person’s dreams and goals in the book, as these are the main themes. The boy helps a merchant turn his shop around so that he can eventually have enough money to finally complete his dream that he has been wanting for some time. The interesting part is that once the merchant has enough money to finally realize his dream he decides not to follow through with it. He says that just having the dream is enough for him and that he had fantasized about it for so long that the real thing surely will not suffice. I thought this was interesting as sometime the dream itself takes on a life of its own and when the real thing comes to pass it is a letdown.
So is the merchant wise or foolish? Is he wise to know himself enough that actually achieving his dream will not make him happy, or is he foolish? Now that he has the means to achieve his goal he simply passes on it. I still do not know the answer to that one.
I would like to think that even though the merchant had this dream and now could achieve it that he is happy without it. I do not know if I know myself as well as the merchant. In the novel he seemed content and satisfied with his decision. I do not think I would be able to live with myself if I had the means to achieve my dream but passed on it.
On the other hand there is the question of happiness. What is it? Does it differ from person to person? Is there an ultimate happiness, one thing that can make each person truly happy? I wish I had the answers to these questions. I have often thought about what will truly make me happy and I can honestly say that I do not know. A few years back I pondered this idea extensively and eventually gave up because I could not come up with an answer. Recently a friend asked me and I still could not answer. I feel some people take the question too lightly, but maybe I take it too seriously, either way I still do not have an answer as to what is happiness or what will make me happy. I defer to Locke and Hobbes.
The only thing I did not like was that it seemed that almost every sentence the author tied to make meaningful and make it into a life lesson. The themes and lessons it does teach are well done and I like what it had to say, but the term overkill defiantly applies here. It just seemed to me that there was too much of trying to hammer a point home. After a while I found myself thinking “okay I get it, next” but still it was a great read and I would highly recommend it if you are doing some soul searching.
I enjoy books that have a point to them or some hidden meaning. But again I do not like to have the ideas so spoon fed to me, or poured down my throat. Unless that was the point Palo Coelho was trying to accomplish, making damn sure that anyone that read the book understood exactly what it was he was trying to say.