If you’ve absorbed any of Coelho’s incredible commercial success, without actually reading the 65-year-old, Brazilian author, it’s genuinely shocking to realize just how shoddy and lightweight his books are, how obvious and well-trodden their revelations. It’s tough to pick the most clichéd lines when there’s such choice, but here are a few of the best. From The Alchemist (1988): ‘‘Why do we have to listen to our hearts?’ the boy asked. … ‘Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.’” From Veronika Decides to Die (1998): ‘‘And all of us, one way or another, are insane.’’ From The Zahir (2005): ‘‘God knows that we are all artists of life.’’
But the vapidity of Coelho is not his greatest sin. Nor is it the relentless self-promotion. At the heart of Coelho’s ostensibly encouraging philosophy is a brutal logic: If you’ve made it, your success is thanks to the mystical powers of positive thinking; if you haven’t, it’s your own fault for not trying hard enough. No credence is given to luck—good or bad—to geography or family background, to the substantial difficulties of economic and social mobility. All of these factors can be subsumed by focus and drive and single-mindedness. It’s a strikingly callous denial of reality, hedged in cuddly fairy tales.Just a step away from victim blaming.