The Alchemist

It has been a while since I read Allegory. When I picked up The Alchemist I tried to leave all notions of grandeur and all prior propaganda aside, I tried to imagine as I am reading the book that I have never heard a word about it prior.

It worked, I couldn't put the book down and it took me four days and a layover in Abu Dhabi to finish the book. I tore through it with the restlessness of a 3 year-old, and reached the conclusion in no time at all.

Despite providing great entertainment, I thought the book took a simple concept of fate as part of the daily culture of the Levant and the Middle East, and placed undue emphasis on simpler parts of the belief system. It was one of the finest allegorical reads in a long time but readers with more "oriental" background or have read the epic stories, legends and folklore of the Middle East will find the book less enchanting and not what it is hyped-up to be. However, I doubt two will ever disagree on how entertaining it is.

Another thing it provided me was a perfect example to explain a certain set of beliefs in "my" culture. When a friend asks me if I believed that what will happen tomorrow for instance is set in stone, and I tell him that I do, many insist on telling me that they can prevent me from my destiny by, say, tying me up. When I tell them that, in that case that means what was "written" was that I will be tied up, certain frustration emerges in the conversation.

To the receiver it seems that I am changing the rules as the game goes on, however what they don't seem to understand is that the variable in the equation is that I don't know what is set in stone and in my belief structure, no one is ever able to predict the future. That changes a certain dynamic in the approach to fate that makes whether or not you believe in your destiny a very insignificant part.

The Alchemist makes the matter of destiny and personal legend a known rather than a variable, which requires in Near Eastern concepts a magical figure to allow it to transpire. Namely the Old King. Part of the work in understanding your destiny that is set in stone, is to now know what to expect, so the motivation to work for your dream is always there.

The other part is to pass the "written" -or as Coelho insists the "maktub"- and look back with belief. When my father passed away, the younger me, well coached by the deceased himself in understanding that everything happens for a reason and that his passing is nothing if not part of a series of events that will lead me to my dreams. The 13 year-old me shed a few tears the first day and spent the next few days contemplating everything my old man tried to teach me and instill in me, and then promised myself to make a the best of the situation.

Next time someone asks me about my beliefs I have added another book to the collection I can refer people to.

Then comes the parts of the book that deal with the Elixir of Life, The Philosopher's Stone and other magical things and the various orientalist descriptions of the desert and the Arabs, which show the level of description and attention that the author enjoyed, it made me not want to drop it and in certain cases, I didn't.

Unless I find a large gap in my to-read list, I doubt I will pick-up a Coelho in the near future, but if his other books are half as smooth as this one, I might buy the whole set.

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