The Alchemist is a book I have had recommended to me countless times throughout my lifetime; it is undoubtedly a wildly popular book that has sparked a cult following. Finally conceding, I picked up a copy at the recommendation of my local book store clerk—the 25th Anniversary edition in fact.
The book presents nicely and doesn’t fail to intrigue with its curious blurb, which boldly claims that a persons only responsibility in life is to fulfil their personal destiny. It is the type of phrase that is both eye catching and enticing to potential readers, the sort of thing that The Alchemist is full of—immediately intriguing lines of philosophy, written in a simple manner that anyone can understand with little thought. It is in those allegedly philosophical lines that The Alchemist hangs its entire story on.
At the half way point of reading this novel, I wasn’t sure if I was reading something genuinely great or absolutely awful. The book plays more like self-help disguised as fiction than it does as traditional novella. This is to me the make or break point of The Alchemist. If phrases such as “If you want something hard enough, the entire universe will conspire to make it happen” or “It is a mans only responsibility to follow and achieve his personal legend” sound inspirational and thought provoking to you, then you will surely find this to be one of the greatest books ever composed. If those phrases come off as hokey and cringe-inducing, you will find this a truly difficult 170 pages to get through. I personally fell more into the latter camp.
The Alchemist has inspired a cult following, and that is not without good reason. The book features an immense amount of references to Islamic culture—the religion and ideals of Islam—which has without a doubt made the book a popular read among Muslim audiences. However, at times I feel the book is somewhat too heavy-handed, and straddles the line of becoming outright proselytism.
Perhaps the most curious element of The Alchemist is its assertion that the pursuit of reading is a wasteful endeavour. I can’t quite ever recall reading a book that presented the idea that reading books was actually a waste of your life, but there is a first time for everything I suppose.
Ultimately, I found The Alchemist to be a struggle to get through. The over the top use of pseudo-philosophy, along with the feeling that the book is a self-help guide in the guise of a fable in the style of Arabian Nights, was almost too overbearing for my taste. I will concede that this book will likely be enjoyed by a certain type of person who is into these themes and ideas, but I am not one of those people. If you are curious about the concept of “personal legends” by all means give the book a read. However, if the very phrase makes you cringe, it is probably best you invest your time elsewhere.