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The Alchemist: Would you take this spiritual journey?

Edited by: Pragyna Divakar (UG 2020)

 

“Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaho toh puri kaaynat tumhe usse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai…” (And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.), no wonder the first thing that you visualize while reading is Shah Rukh Khan’s face from the Bollywood film ‘Om Shanti Om’. But what piece of work gave way to this celebrated dialogue? Any guesses? That’s right. It’s none other than The Alchemist by the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. Coelho had a fascination for writing since a young age which led him to consider it as a career option, unlike the plans his father had for him. In an interview with Oprah, Coelho revealed that his parents wanted him to be an engineer, just like his father, and not an artist. Alarmed by his stubbornness , Coelho’s parents admitted him into an asylum. But why so? “Because I wanted to be an artist. Artists, you know, they starve to death. They are homosexuals. They drink.”, replies Coelho in conversation with Oprah. Rejection from the family didn’t hinder his approach towards his passion; instead, he went ahead to pursue his dreams just like the protagonist of The Alchemist, Santiago, does.

                      

                                                                          

 

  Coelho’s most translated and significant work The Alchemist maps the journey of a shepherd boy, Santiago, who travels from Andalusia to the Egyptian pyramids in search of a treasure which came to him in his dreams. In his journey towards the attainment of his goal, each encounter carries Santiago a step closer to the spiritual awakening he witnesses by the end of the journey, the encounter with an alchemist being the most significant one. This allegorical path depicted by Coelho comprises Santiago’s first attempt at realizing his dream to be a traveler,  giving up on his closest possession —his flock of sheep, taking risks whenever required, observing the world and its languages, losing all hope in hard phases, falling in love with a desert woman, and much more. Written in a spiritual dialect, the journey resonates with Coelho’s errand towards becoming an author against the will of his parents, just like Santiago becomes a traveler instead of becoming a priest. 

                           

           A significant part of the journey is set in a desert which heightens the impact of the lessons the author aims at delivering. Visual imagery of the desert amplifies the hardships and struggles experienced by Santiago in his journey towards his desired end. “The desert is a capricious lady, and sometimes she drives men crazy”, as personified by the author. The impact of Coelho’s writing lies in its simplicity in describing events that are hard to explain in writing. Following the same, the title The Alchemist which underlines the complicated field of alchemy is broken down by Coelho in the most simple and spiritual manner to facilitate a smooth understanding for his readers. Moreover, Coelho keeps introducing new characters in the journey after definite intervals to maintain and enhance the pace of reading. These encounters experienced by the protagonist prevent the narrative from a monotonous edge it would have acquired otherwise. There exists a linking element between each of them to maintain the flow of reading just like Santiago’s journey.

         Despite Coelho’s efforts to restrict the narrative to a limited space, what a reader might find boring is an excessive personification throughout. The spiritual metaphors like ‘Soul of the World’, ‘Language of the World’, are repetitive enough to make one sleep over some portions of Santiago’s journey without missing much of the entire plot. But this might not necessarily be considered a drawback; a great work can give its reader something new at any point of entry without making him or her lose much. The journey, though composed of unrealistic elements, offers sufficient space to readers to find their position in the array of spots covered by Coelho. Fear of losing interest in some parts shouldn’t be the criteria to offer a rejection to this piece of work; journeys aren’t always exciting throughout, they have phases of ups and downs and so is the case with The Alchemist. The fact that this review addresses this work repeatedly as a ‘journey’ more than a ‘book’ or a ‘novel’ offers an explanation to why this work should be judged more by the impact it has on its readers than how it fares on a literary scale. It’s up to you to decide whether to take this journey or not; I ended up with a smile and laughter just like Santiago does on a realization in the end.

 

Abhyanshi Tripathi has been into the field of writing for four years. In this span, she has co-authored a book titled Collectio. This book was released on Kindle, Amazon in September 2017. The book came out as the bestseller on Amazon.in. Besides that, she runs a blog-Crexert.
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