The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Extraordinarily crafted and presented, Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel The Goldfinch tells the story of Theodore Decker, a young man plagued by memories of his experiences in an act of terrorism, the loss of his mother, and one piece of artwork that alters his life — and history — forever.

Deemed a Dickensian-style coming of age novel, for its poetic air and substantial length (771 pages, beginning to end), “The Goldfinch” recounts a large sequence of Theodore’s life from his point of view, as he moves from New York to Las Vegas and back again, and ages from thirteen to mid-twenties. The novel stretches broadly across a grand array of emotions, written in descriptive and illustrious sentences: orchestrations of edge and tension, raw reflection and self-discovery, dreamy chains of events.

Tartt presents a diverse and complex cast of characters accompanying Theo in his spiraling search for answers, including his informal guardian and (eventual) business partner Hobie and his risk-taking Ukrainian friend Boris. Each character — individual in their own stories, mannerisms, beauty — pulls new aspects into the course of Theo’s life and leads to the ultimate fate of the story.

Theo’s desire for control and hunt for resolutions to his long-standing questions remains central to the heart of “The Goldfinch.” Still utterly infatuated with Carel Fabritius’s painting, the namesake of the novel, Theo expresses his connection to the painting and the fact that it acted as a piece of joy, a piece of history that he had an impact on: “And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost…” (Tartt 771).

The Goldfinch is brought to a close in the midst of loose ends; what happens between the characters is still unclear, left at the hands of the audience to decide the character’s stories. And, after pages and pages of Tartt’s beautifully written masterwork, we can’t help but imagine our very own endings for the characters we’ve grown so fond of.

-Keira D.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I first read The Alchemist when I was around eleven or so. The book was confusing to me, and although I enjoyed it, I felt as if I was missing the bigger picture in some way. The book contained a lot of symbolism and themes that I was slightly too young to fully comprehend.

Revisiting this six years later, I understand this book to be more than a fantastical adventure across Africa towards untold riches and going through trials and tribulations to come out on top. It is deep and the message resonated with me after I finished reading it.

This novel is not about the practice of alchemy or the journey of a young man, Santiago. At least, not solely about either of those. The main idea, or theme, is how fear often controls people. The novel proposes the idea that everyone has what it calls a Personal Legend. A Personal Legend is a goal that the universe has put out for someone or a dream they want to accomplish. This is supposed to bring someone ultimate satisfaction for completing it and in order to continue living a satisfactory life and achieve happiness new Personal Legends are continuously set out after one has been completed. However, throughout the book examples are shown of people who are often too afraid to fulfill their Personal Legend, and thus find themselves stuck in an endless routine, or feeling empty as a result of the fear holding them back.

Although following your Personal Legend can come at a price, like Santiago losing all his money while in a foreign country, this is the universe testing people and seeing if they are truly strong enough or dedicated enough to keep going. It rewards people who push past obstacles or get up to continue trying even when they fall.

Coelho is trying to encourage the readers of the story to go out and experience their own adventures, fulfill their own Personal Legends, lest you fall into a cycle, doomed to dissatisfaction.

Santiago is someone we look at as a reflection of ourselves. He has a comfortable life living in a certain way without changing, but his life is stagnant. Until he makes that decision to look at signs being given to him and taking a leap of faith to begin his journey. At first, it does not go well. He goes to a foreign country, loses nearly all his money to a con man, and has nothing but the clothes on his back. However, he begins working for a crystal merchant, and over time gains money. Although he is deciding to go back to Andalusia, at the last minute he decides to continue his journey to completing his Personal Legend in Egypt. He faces many hardships, almost dying along the way, but eventually, he makes it back to Andalusia, where he finds treasures waiting for him.

The story as a whole is actually inspiring. It shows that achieving your goal is not easy, nor should it be. But it is rewarding seeing it through to the end, and the satisfaction of fulfilling a goal that you worked hard to achieve is (in Coelho’s opinion) the way to have a happy, good life.

-Farrah M. 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive