This is not a book summary. There is no possible was a summary could dream of capturing the true essence of the message that lies within those pages, therefore before you read this review, read the book. You may feel out of your depth, as I did, but there is a divine simplicity within the complexity of the terms used, and only by truly engaging with the story will you be able to fully appreciate that.
This book found me exactly when I needed it to. Delving into my third year of university, I was confronted by a host exciting yet simultaneously overwhelming experiences. We as humans make important decisions everyday about the type of people we want to be and the type of lives we want to lead. However, the majority of this decision making is done subconsciously as we have different encounters and face varying temptations. Being a member of a third year writing class can be extremely daunting, and at times I felt that I couldn’t cope. At this point in time, The Alchemist taught me about the danger of fear.
Santiago’s journey was so riveting to follow because it is a glimpse of the journey we all embark on throughout life. Fear slides onto his path on a number of occasions in an attempt to stop him from achieving his Personal Legend. Each time it appears it wears a new mask. We meet his childhood fear of having a gypsy woman interpret his mysterious dreams, his material fear of parting ways with his wealth when he departs to Tangier, the very real physical fear of death during the battle at Al-Fayoum, and the spiritual fear that he would let himself down and fail to transform into the wind.
Coelho is such an admirable writer because he tells the story of someone’s very unique and exotic journey yet makes it relatable to so many different people. We have all experienced the fear that on some level people will see a side to us that we are not necessarily proud of or fully understand, much like the gypsy woman in Santiago’s story. The fear of losing material possessions causes us to lock our doors and pursue careers based on their monetary awards and the status attached. I have heard people say that the only certain thing in life, is death, yet it is something that people fear so intensely that we go to extreme measures to avoid its embrace, clawing our way back into this life and living so cautiously even though we have no idea what awaits afterwards. The spiritual fear that Santiago experiences can be realised from countless perspectives. It is the fear that we will let ourselves or those we hold in high esteem down. It is a fear that we are not capable of achieving our dreams, and it is a fear that we will not become the being we strive to be.
Santiago is fortunate enough to have a bounty of wise and worldly mentors such as Melchizedek and the alchemist. They condemn fear by describing it as a product of misunderstanding of how the universe treats those pursuing their Personal Legends. According to them, when faced with death, fear becomes irrelevant as long as you have faithfully pursued your dreams.
The strength and truth behind these words is emphasised when we are able to compare them to the life lead by the crystal merchant. Fear dominates this character, and has come to rule his life. the merchant dreams of making the pilgrimage to Mecca, a religious requirement of every Muslim, yet he is so fearful that once he has made the trip that he will have nothing left to live for, and therefore he remains in his shop, surrounded by familiarity, an oblivious prisoner to his fear. The deep unhappiness that we witness within the merchant reinforces the notion that fear is nothing more than an obstacle standing between us, and a happy, fulfilled life.
After reading The Alchemist, I felt as though I had completed a journey of my own. With an enriched understanding of my personal pursuit of contentment, I was able to throw myself in this year with a courage I discovered between the covers of this book.