My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The dual combination of being both short and one of those books which appears on more or less every ‘Must Read’ list meant I finally picked up this slender volume recently. Having seen the book quoted innumerable times in various forms across social media, I took a little time out to actually digest the story properly.
Perhaps instinctively realising what story writers are trained to know now – that no one likes to be lectured by the narrator – Gibran presents a philosophical treatise on how to live an upright and peaceful life under the guise of telling the story of the titular Prophet leaving the town where he has lived many years to return to his own home at long last. Before he can go, the adoring crowd asking him for last words of wisdom on a range of issues. Over twenty chapters covering, love, children, money, clothes, friendship, pleasure, religion and many others. The Prophet gives his pithy conclusions before setting sail.
I was not expecting much, I have to admit. While those many memes I’ve seen trot out semi-trite truisms which sound good but have very little use, I figured the whole would be worse, not least because Gibran wrote the book in 1923. A lot as happened since then and it is hard to believe a naïve and simplistic book could offer anything of worth a century later.
Initially, I felt my suspicions justified. Stylistically somewhere between a tacky Paulo Coelho novel and a pompous teaching from the Bible/Qur’an, the book had all the trappings of an empty set of words, albeit beautifully written. Inside, my heart’s arms were well and truly folded with scepticism.
But after just a few chapters, said arms began to unfold and began to focus a little more. What this Prophet said actually made sense and seemed in tune with much of my own philosophy. As time went on, I found myself nodding vigorously. The words were soothing and messages conveyed meaningful. Far from being full of fluffy nonsense, these passages were truly helpful. I immediately began thinking of people I know who would benefit considerably from reading this book.
I can see why ‘The Prophet’ became the Sixties Bible in many ways. The philosophies do boil down to the premise of ‘do nothing wrong to thy neighbour’ but don’t restrict the enjoyment of pleasure. That is not to say this is a collection of hedonist sayings. Some are hard – your children are not your children: they belong to life; joy and sorrow are inseparable – and so on. Gibran was a convert to the Baha’i faith and the maturity of a theological view shows through. These are not trite sayings for teenagers who want easy things to believe. These are comforting and wise words for the mature who want to better understand the nature of the world and how to ride its ups and downs.
In short, this is an ideal book for anyone who considers themselves thoughtful and wants to ponder the world. Short enough to be given as a gift which might actually be read, ‘The Prophet’ is, at its worst, harmless. At its best, I suspect it is life changing. This book is one of the few I really wish I’d read when I was much younger. It might well have been a major influence. As it is, I’ll take comfort in it while sitting in my garden on a calm, peaceful spring day.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 2.2 million times.