Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Saturday morning I decided to go to the library to find some books on languages. After looking around and not finding what I wanted to find I was about to head out when my eye was caught by this book:


I read a couple of pages, was intrigued by the simple but profound writing and checked it out. I started the book when I arrived home and finished it the next day. It is not a long book, less than 200 pages, but the lessons within could take up volumes and volumes. Without divulging the plot, the story follows the events of a young shepherd who leaves his homeland in Spain and to travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids and find buried treasure. I love stories about traveling through the Sahara, the Pyramids, and buried treasure  so the story-line naturally appealed to me. However, much more than that is the writing itself that made me keep reading. If any of you have read “The Little Prince”  by Antoine Saint Exupery, you’ll understand what I mean when I describe Coelho’s style as simple but profound. “The Alchemist” reminded me very much of the classic by Saint Exupery and it’s no wonder that it has been translated in over 50 languages. I’m just amazed that I’ve never heard about this book. Coelho first published this in his native Brazil in 1988 and then it was translated into English in 1993 and here I am reading it 23 years later. I feel like I’m really late to the party! But if you’re late like me — don’t delay, read it now!

I need to return my copy to the library now, but I will be purchasing a copy of my own. This is the type of book that reveals a little bit more each time you revisit it.

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Make A Choice!

I am sitting here drinking my home-made hot chocolate and enjoying a slice of strawberry cheesecake. And I am thinking about the change that has overcome me at work. I had a great week at work. Not necessarily from a production standpoint, but from a process perspective. There were so many new roles that I needed to perform and I had some trouble getting down my process and mustering the confidence to stick to that process no matter how stupid I felt doing it.

 

Home-made hot chocolate is so much better than store bought!

But then I had this realization that…no one is a success overnight and everyone had to start somewhere. That even those who were the most successful in my role had to have failed before and that the only difference between them and the others is that they chose to believe that they wouldn’t let anything hinder them from doing as well as they believed they could. Everyone gets scared, feels stupid, gets rejected, gets told “no”, but stopping at those moments means you become like everyone else. Everyone else who makes excuses about the client, about the job, about the market, about the expectations, about everybody and everything else besides themselves. Pointing fingers and justifying their failures in a way that absolves them of the blame when the truth is that no one else but themselves are to blame. You know, it’s so easy to deflect. It feels good to not be the reason why you can’t do something. It means that you don’t need to change. That you have done everything that you need to do and it is out of your hands — it’s not your fault. But what goes unsaid, is that when you do this to yourself, it also means that you don’t get better. That you don’t get to see what you are actually capable of. That you don’t learn. That you don’t surprise yourself anymore.

So you need to make a choice. A choice to get back up, get out, get better, do better, keep going, explore your abilities, surprise others. Make a choice to be the stuff of wonder and possibility that sparks others to do the same.

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Desert Queen, by Janet Wallach

This book holds the balance between an informational, historical, romantic, and suspenseful story so effortlessly that you forget that it is a biography. Now, I rarely read biographies — I can’t even remember the last time I read one — but if they read anything like this one, I need to start making it a more common occurrence. The book chronicles the life of Miss Gertrude Bell, a fiercely intelligent and unabashedly gutsy Englishwoman who “explored, mapped, and excavated the world of the Arabs.” She lived in tents, crossed the desert on camel back with Bedouins, negotiated talks between dangerous warlords, got captured as a prisoner in the process, but also left time to update her wardrobe with the latest fashions from Europe. She basically drew the borders for Iraq and Jordan and helped nurture the governmental foundations of those two countries in the 1920s. The National Museum of Iraq, known in her time as the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, was formed due to her love of archaeology and passion for Iraqi culture and history. It houses artifacts of one of the earliest known civilizations in the world — the Mesopotamian culture and Babylonian Empire — and while the museum was looted during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it reopened this year after much refurbishment.

I chose to highlight just a couple out of her many and impressive achievements, but I think they give you a taste for the adventure, passion and influence Bell brought into the world. The story is so skillfully written, that it’s hard to believe that Wallach so seamlessly connected Bell’s life by little more than her letters and diary entries. Of course, as a voracious writer who was acutely aware that her words were recording history as it happened, Bell had left behind thousands of pages of material, but nevertheless, it was no simple undertaking for Wallach to flawlessly meld such a rich and tangled history into this unified book. I highly recommend you to read about this marvelous lady who is now my personal icon. I share so much in common with her: our love of languages, history, Sumerian archaeology, fashion, and we even have the same birthday! *Sigh* Of course, I have yet to create the political framework of a country or head a national library — but there’s still time while I’m alive!

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