The Alchemist/ Monique and the Mango Rains

Last week I threw my hat into the world of  Weekly Geeks.  For my first assignment I had to interview another blogger about a book they had recently read and then they were to interview me on what I had last read.  So Just a (Reading) Fool and I exchanged interviews. Judging from his thoughts on Paul Coelho I doubt that I will be getting to Veronika Decides to Die anytime soon. Read on…

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paul Coelho
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco
Publication Date: May 1995
Format: Paperback, 176 pages

Me: I hear a lot about Paul Coelho. He’s mystical, he has such deep insight, he’s a must read; just to name a few if the things I have heard about him and his work. What has your experience in reading The Alchemist? Do you think any of those claims are justified? What made you want to read this book?

unfinishedperson: Yes, I believe Coelho is mystical, has seemingly deep insight, but I’ll be honest I don’t know if it’s a must read. I wasn’t bowled over by the book. I saw this book at a local bookstore and thought, “Hey, why not?” Plus I had heard a few things about it, both pro and con, from bloggers in the “book blogosphere.”

Me: Which character was the most complex and what issues (moral or otherwise) did they raise for you as a reader?

unfinishedperson: It would be easy to say the title character of the alchemist was the most complex character, but really the Analusian shepherd boy Santiago was probably the most complex, because we are with him the longest in the book as he searches for treasure he thinks is buried in the Pyramids. What keeps him going in search of his treasure, even after getting sidetracked in the pursuit of happiness through worldly goods? What keeps any of us going after the treasure that is in our hearts?

Me: Which character did you like the most and would have over for dinner? Why would it be that “person”?

unfinishedperson: I wouldn’t have any of them over for dinner. None of them felt real to me. They all seemed to be allegorical in nature, like Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, just there to teach us the lesson Coelho wanted us to learn: that we should listen to our hearts, wherein our treasure already is.

Me: Oftentimes, no matter what I’m reading, there will be at least one passage that strikes me in some way and I have to pause to consider it; did you have any moments or passages you can share like that?

unfinishedperson: Unfortunately, I didn’t. It all seemed to be too saccharine for my tastes.

Me: If you liked it, what are the most compelling reasons to read The Alchemist?

unfinishedperson: Even though I didn’t particularly like it, I think the most compelling reason to read it is because of its lesson to follow your heart, no matter what. However, that’s also the most compelling reason not to read it too– because the story is so didactic that you really cannot connect to any of the characters or the story. You know all of it is just a prop in a great morality play.

unfinishedperson: Final analysis: Despite what seem like a harsh review by me, I still give this book a 3 out of 5, because at only 167 pages, it’s short, and you still might find some greatness in it, even though I only found a little bit of good.

Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with Midwife In Mali, by Kris Holloway
Publisher: Waveland Press
Publication Date:  July 2006
Format: Trade Paperback, 240 pages

unfinishedperson: First question I have on this book is when I see the title, beyond who Monique is, I wonder what are the mango rains? If it doesn’t give away too much, can you tell us what they are?

Me: As a farming village Mali is completely reliant on their rainy season to get a good crop. Which will determine how they are able to eat and live for the rest of the year.  The rainy season is probably only about 3-4 months out of the year.  The mango rains are light rains that happen ahead of the rainy seasons that are credited in Mali with making the mangoes sweet.

“This mango is so sweet,” I said, jutting my chin out against the juice dribbled off of it and onto the sand. “Thank you my dear Monique.”

“It is the mango rains we must thank.”

“Mango rains?”

“The small rains that come, in February and March.  They come when the earth is dry and the heavy rains still far away to make the mangoes sweet,” Monique said wiping the delicious stickiness off her face. “You do not remember?’

Yes, I did, I nodded. The brief rains that feel when I least expected them.

unfinishedperson: Now about Monique, I have read a bit online about her, a midwife for hundreds of women in Mali in West Africa. While knowing little about the subject or culture in which she lives, as an ignorant “ugly American,” I might think “So what”? So tell me what was so amazing about her being a midwife for hundreds of women?

Me: Monique is so amazing because of the environment and circumstances, in which she lived and worked, and she still managed to be the sweet, caring and compassionate woman she was throughout all her experiences. Aside from the dangers of childbirth and the extremely high rates of mortality for mothers and children in Mali, are the circumstances that the women can face afterward.  They often get up and return to working in the field and drawing water, caring for children, cooking for large families, lots of strenuous activities a mere hours after birth; Monique pushed for them to rest, she went above and beyond by talking to their husbands and being a strong advocate so that these women would have a better chance at rest.

A lot of the women faced the death of their children through malnutrition and starvation and she would run clinics to teach them how to prepare baby food for themselves, she helped in the planning of the building of a new clinic, she worked to bring birth control to the village, she was a friend to these women and she tirelessly visited her mothers to make sure they were taking care of themselves after they had given birth.

There is so much more t that she did, and she did it all virtually for free.  Her husband and his father picked up her paycheck and allocated her a pittance to feed the family, while they sent the rest as they saw fit.

unfinishedperson: If you enjoyed the book, what is your favorite section of the book? Can you share part of it to show us why we should read this book? Or if you didn’t enjoy the book, what was it about that you didn’t enjoy (again, share an excerpt)?

Me: It’s really hard to define a favorite section with this book.  All of it was so rich in Mali life and customs and the friendship of these women that you don’t want to miss a thing.  I love the way Kris Holloway was, for the most part, non-judgmental of the culture and because she didn’t have a lot of judgment it was easy as the reader to get an understanding of the way the world works there before you take a step back and figure out how feel about it all. The writing was straightforward and easy to understand, and in some places, beautiful.  Each sentence was rich and offered insight into the experience of living there. Take a look.

“Monique loved going to the Catholic Church in Koutiala.  It was a much grander place than the one in Nampossela. The mile and a half walk there wound through the wide, red-dirt streets.  Monique and I ambled along while Basil wiggled uncomfortably on her back.  We’d had a light rain in the night and the morning was filled with the earth’s moist, pungent breath.  Vendors selling breakfasts of coffee, bananas, and egg-and-bread sandwiches lined the road, and my stomach growled, despite my breakfast of millet porridge.”

unfinishedperson: I’ve seen blurbs on the book where other authors have said they said they were “moved and inspired” by this book? If it did the same for you, how did it?

I was incredibly moved.  Monique was a great friend and the strength of her friendship with Kris Holloway was very touching.  Despite a life filled with incredible hardships Monique was a beautiful and happy person, and she was so dedicated to her work as a midwife and health educator.  I am always inspired when I hear of instances where people are making the proverbial lemonade.

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