In Defense Of Paulo Coelho

There are times, when a book can completely define you and your status in the world. That is what had happened to Paulo Coelho, after he finished the phenomenon known as 'The Alchemist'. Back in the late 80s, with Tom Clancy and Jeffrey Archer hogging the limelight with their potboilers, this pulpy novel of a young boy finding a lost treasure in Africa and meeting the eponymous hermit was initially written off as abstract, superficial and unreal. However, as the sales and reprints went on increasing, no one could stop the whole book from being a modern classic.

Now, hold a minute. If you are a Coelho purist, and have been following up on him for ages, you would know that almost every new novel has been a roaring success in bookstores. Not only has each book encouraged translators from etching the author's thoughts in different languages. The book pirates also hoisted their sales and the bootlegged prints were found on the streets and waysides. But 'The Alchemist' was a different thing. It was not only a bestseller. It was really a novel that was well-written, exceptionally narrated with a Hemingway-like simplicity and powered with an uplifting message, which struck a chord with its readers.

Coelho, like most other bestselling authors, has been subject to much wrath of the veterans and critics as well. The usual criticism is that the author often forgoes hard and harsh realities and settles for optimism and convenience. Yet, as many of his ardent fans would agree, his novels are not merely fluff and bluff. They are characterized with stories of people looking for simple things, like love, salvation and peace or maybe their true destinies. Paulo likes to set these stories on a global scale, which makes their findings and quests more legendary and epic than expected.

It is perhaps the sweeping grandeur of Coelho's narration that takes people by storm. However, even his harshest critics would agree that a Coelho novel is easy to read and lucid. Like Hemingway, Coelho uses a simple language to express his thoughts or to convey what are his characters feeling. He seldom stresses on complicated words or allegories or even digressions. His prose is accompanied with his reflections and opinions. The result is that we know about the author through what is characters feel or speak.

Sorcery and spirituality play integral roles in Coelho's prose. One could forgive the critics for writing off his style as detached from the real and credible. But then, it is easy to look how Coelho has struck a chord with his readers. At one level, he depicts their frustrations, incongruities and aspirations. But at another, he makes the quests of his characters so epic like a revelation that the reader feels uplifted and optimistic.

Coelho's characters are often written off as well but they are also the writer's greatest strengths. There are characters from a suicidal young girl, two adolescent lovers, who grow up speculating about their relationship, a man who wows revenge for his wife's infidelity and more. Through it all, Coelho's characters are simple individuals but endowed with unique virtues and believable faults. So, we feel for each character as he or she embarks in a conquest.

While a few of his novels have tried to rehash the spirit and energy of his first novel, they have not entirely succeeded. But Coelho has more than compensated by widening his oeuvre of writing. 'The Winner Stands Alone' and 'The Zahir' are gripping novels that explore darker grounds- of things beyond human control like love, revenge or even ambition. Through it all, Coelho's novels are similar in their stories of individuals in alternately dark and magical quests for self-discovery.