Why I keep on re-reading Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Sink or Swim.”

By Marietta Geraldino

Much has been written about Paulo Coelho’s highly acclaimed novel, The Alchemist. Rightly, so. The novel has remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 300 weeks. It has been reviewed by readers from all walks of life and critiqued from both ends of the spectrum.

I first got hold of The Alchemist during one of my visits to the New York City Public Library, my secret hideout when I wanted to ‘disappear.’ It was in 2004. I just moved to New York City and felt so alone, lost, and overwhelmed. Reading novels was one of the ways I coped with work stress and homesickness.

At first, I kept on asking myself, “What makes the story of Santiago, a Spanish shepherd boy, special?” It’s been reported that then-President Bill Clinton was photographed leaving the White House with a copy of the novel. Even Madonna and Will Smith, I learned, raved about the book.

“Where’s the disconnect? Why do I find The Alchemist ordinary?”

“It won fans in high places,” I reminded myself. So, I continued to flip the pages aimlessly, underwhelmed. Then, I began to take notice of the novel’s recurring themes. The message completely and deeply resonated with me:

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only obligation.”
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dreamed of.”

The novel speaks of the importance of seeking ones’ own spiritual meaning –  passion, purpose – in life, and spending one’s life fulfilling it. A personal legend, as it’s referred to in The Alchemist, is a destiny unique to every person.

Coming to New York City through a temporary H-1B teaching visa was a risk and a commitment to several unknowns. After all, I was already an accomplished educator in the Philippines for 15 years. But really, who would pass up the chance to teach and to live in the city with infinite possibilities? Not me. In fact, working in the Big Apple is a dream come true – a blessing. With my educational portfolio, I was confident that I would make it on day one. How difficult could it be?

I got ‘schooled.’

The reality of teaching in a high-need school in America immediately doused my confidence and enthusiasm. I could not seem to manage my teaching space. I was totally and unquestionably out of my comfort zone.

It was during this crucial point that I crossed paths with The Alchemist. Suddenly, its message seemed relevant. The novel’s recurring theme seemed to speak to me directly – comforting, challenging, egging me on to persevere and to believe in what I do. I was reminded that I came to New York City to do what I do best and that if others could successfully teach under the same constraints, then there’s no reason why I could not.

In 2013, I was named as one of New York’s top teachers.


During the novel’s crucial points, many of the characters that Santiago meets during his journey would say this word. Maktub, according to the crystal merchant, means “It is written.

Fast forward to 2020.

A current situation reminded me to re-read the novel, which is no longer in my possessionThat’s how I came to buy the 25th-anniversary edition of The Alchemist. This time, I intended to read it with purpose – to seek a deeper understanding of Coelho’s divining symbolism and concept of personal legend.

This time, however, it’s the story of the book’s publication that inspired me the most. The foreword reads:

” When The Alchemist was first published twenty-five years ago in my native Brazil, no one noticed. A bookseller in the northeast corner of the country told me that only one person purchased a copy of the first week of its release ….  By the end of the year, it was clear to everyone that The Alchemist wasn’t working. My original publisher decided to cut me loose and canceled our contract.”

Coelho explained, “I was 41 and desperate. But I never lost faith in the book or ever wavered in my vision. Why? Because it was me in there, all of me, heart and soul. I was living my own metaphor.”

This brings me to the question, “Does the novel also speak of my own metaphor?”

Yes. Re-reading The Alchemistafter 16 years, makes me question my current comfort zone. It makes me wonder, “Am I living my personal legend? Is this it?” Or, “Am I like the crystal merchant who has become complacent and has given up the pursuit of his personal legend?”

 I say, “Maktub!” 

And, hence, begins my renewed self quest for a deeper understanding of my own personal legend, as viewed from a new lens. Isn’t such a toll order inspired by a novel that I first thought of as ordinary?





‘Office View’ by Genesis T. Geraldino

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Truth Serum.”

By Marietta Geraldino

Every second is a moment of choice. To do or not to do. To hate or to forgive. To be thankful or be ungrateful. To stay content or to take the risk. Choice, after all, is integral to a person’s DNA.

Our pragmatic self might say ‘why forgive?’ or ‘take the risk.’ But our theoretical self might command ‘do forgive’ or ‘don’t take the risk.’ Sometimes, we feel too hurt or too disillusioned to even think that there is such a choice or that there are such options to choose from. So, most of the times, we opt to be invisible, silent, unchoosing ….

But I choose to be grateful for all the blessings that come my way. I choose to bless the people – acquaintance, friend or foe – that led me to a moment of choice and an option of grace.

When I was appointed by my University as Interim Academic Executive Officer (AEO), one of the College Deans, who has been a ‘good’ friend since college days, refused to ‘perform’ or to present her department’s Action Plan.

When asked to explain, she replied “I cannot accept that you are now the VP for Academic Affairs.” “I think,” she continued, “Ma’am so and so is more fitting for the job.” And when invited to take a seat (we were meeting in my office), she refused the courtesy and left the office still fuming and mumbling.

I did not understand where it was coming from. Nor had I the energy to dwell on someone’s bitter pill. That was one of my inflection points.

At that moment, I chose to uphold the integrity of the Office that I was entrusted to manage. I decided that such action and inaction from a member of the Academic Cabinet was not worth the time, the trust, and the resources that the University invested on its personnel.

I chose to perform well my duties and responsibilities, collaboratively, and within the premise of the University’s expected workplace culture. I chose to shine – unfiltered, unhindered, unbridled.

It was only years later that I realized the value of the experience. When that moment came, I chose to forgive. Why begrudge a situation that unmasked true intentions and enhanced my professional edge? Lessons were learned on office politics and workplace cliques that tend to cause job toxicity and exclusivity, rather than promote collegiality. I would have not gained such insights just by reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In‘ or Brene Brown’s ‘Rising Strong.’

Gratefulness is also a better option, I’ve decided. Opting to remain grateful to the individuals and institutions that nurtured my personal and professional growth developed lasting friendships and goodwill. I have remained appreciative of my work ‘bosses’, friends, and colleagues who cared enough to temper my ‘impudent’ and rough professional edges.

As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” So I choose to view life from the lens of gratitude. I choose to forgive. I choose to be content with an ounce of risk-taking. That’s my narrative. After all, we are the choice that we make.

I prefer, where truth is important, to write fiction.~ Virginia Woolf

Of Choices and Options: Truth Serum