Book of the Week: The Journey and the Destination
This week’s book-of-the-week is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This review is brought to you by Nicholas Novine, Library Intern, Class of 2014, Double majoring in art history and arts management.
The Alchemist is an allegorical novel that follows the journey of a young shepherd boy named Santiago after having recurring dreams of finding a great treasure in Egypt.
The main theme of the book revolves around this the idea of a Personal Legend, which asks “what you have always wanted to accomplish.” Shortly after embarking on his journey, the Personal Legend concept is introduced to the main character by a mysterious old king who adds, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” This is essentially the core philosophy of the novel.
During Santiago’s pursuit of fulfilling his Personal Legend, he encounters an Englishman with whom he travels through the Sahara Desert. He meets and falls in love with an Arab girl named Fatima. When he asks for her hand in marriage, she tells him she will only marry him until once he has found his treasure; she explains that true love will not stop one’s Personal Legend, or otherwise it is not love in its truest form.
Santiago eventually meets a lone alchemist in the desert who tells him that people want only the treasure of their Personal Legend but not the Legend itself. The alchemist states, “those who don’t understand their Personal Legend will fail to comprehend its teachings.”
The Alchemist, due to the method in which it is written, becomes more of a guide than a work of fiction. Despite it’s setting, the concepts and themes are applicable to any person, because, in a way, we are all in pursuit of some form of meaning or significance within our lives, our own Personal Legend.
The main character becomes a placeholder for the mind and experiences of the reader. It is through Santiago’s journey and experiences that aspects of our own lives become translated, and we begin to consider ourselves, and our place, within the vast interconnectedness of the universe.
When reading this book I was traveling through Italy to various ancient monuments and cities. Walking on stones that countless others have stepped, and breathing the air of antiquity, I could not help but draw parallels between my journey and the events of The Alchemist.
What I learned while reading this novel can be considered nothing less than enlightening; as I traveled through the ruins of Pompeii, Paestum, and the wonders of Rome, I came to a realization, very much like that of Santiago, that what I gain at the end of this journey is ultimately meaningless if I cannot appreciate and understand the wisdom and knowledge cultivated along the way. Thus, appreciating the journey over the destination becomes pivotal in gaining anything from The Alchemist. Otherwise, like many aspects of life, it becomes anti-climactic, disappointing and the wisdom forfeit.