The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

One of the most transformative novels ever written is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book was originally published in Portuguese in 1988, but has since been translated into numerous other languages, making it a bestseller across the globe. 

The novel chronicles the story of a shepherd boy named Santiago, who receives a prophecy from a fortune teller regarding a dream that he has had in the abandoned church he calls home. The fortune teller explains to him that he will seek great treasure at the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Santiago begins his journey across the continent to reach Egypt, when he meets King Salem. King Salem introduces one of the most pivotal ideas in the novel, which is the concept of “Personal Legend.” According to King Salem, your Personal Legend is the goal you are always destined to want to accomplish. Santiago’s “Personal Legend” is to reach the Egyptian pyramids and uncover their great treasure. As he travels through Africa, Santiago is robbed of the little money he has for his journey, so he finds a job as a merchant to earn enough money to continue. During this time, Santiago also falls in love with a girl named Fatima, who he eventually proposes to. However, she only promises to marry him after he has achieved his “personal legend.” This later teaches the resilience of true love and the importance of sacrifice in achieving one’s “Personal Legend.” 

Santiago finds another travel companion in an alchemist, who helps him achieve unity with the “soul of the world” and reach a deeper level of self-discovery and awareness. The two finally reach the pyramids, where Santiago digs for treasure to no avail. That night, Santiago is robbed yet again, but discovers that the treasure he was searching for actually resides in the church where he had the initial dream. 

Santiago’s trials and tribulations teach the reader to treasure the path to success. While the destination may be the achievement of a goal, true growth and learning come from the journey. Additionally, this novel shows the importance of personal aspiration and goals through the concept of “Personal Legend.” In order to achieve one’s goals or “Personal Legend,” one must sacrifice complacency and familiarity in favor of risk and determination. The lessons taught through the pages of The Alchemist are powerful and revolutionary in sparking a mental, emotional, and spiritual transformation. Because of this, The Alchemist is a crucial read in achieving personal growth and is highly recommended.

-Katie A.

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

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

It’s not very often that you find a book that you think about on the daily. A book whose plot is so intricate and thought-provoking that its messages are imprinted into your brain. But The Alchemist is just that. A beautiful combination of fantasy elements intertwined with real-life lessons, this is definitely worth reading for those looking for a far-from-cliché book.

This book follows the journey of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, with a dream that ironically keeps him up at night. In order to decipher what he believes to be a prophecy, he encounters many different people who give Santiago their own two cents. One of the most memorable meetings is with a man named King Melchizedek, who brings up this idea of a “Personal Legend”. In the words of the king, it is “what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their personal legend is. That theme is weaved throughout the book, and continues to fuel Santiago’s thirst for knowledge and adventure, and through his ups and downs of finding love and struggling through failure, he discovers the treasure his dream has been showing him.

The Alchemist is unique in the sense that it allows the reader to really immerse themselves into Santiago. They can easily relate and absorb the lessons Santiago receives along the way, rather than just skimming over them. Though this story is only a little over 160 pages (and I wish it was longer), there is so much wisdom packed into every page of this story.

As an avid fantasy and science-fiction reader, I was a bit wary starting this story. But, I believe the valuable teachings within The Alchemist are worth reading and knowing about, no matter what type(s) of genre(s) you enjoy! After all, anyone could use a little bit of enlightenment. 🙂

-Julianne T.

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

Book Review: The Moonstone by William Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone eBook by Wilkie Collins - 1230001902938 | Rakuten Kobo United  States

As a writer of the British Empire at the peak of the colonial era, Collins is immersed in the influence of colonialism and orientalism thinking mode. His image of the Eastern people inevitably shows the superiority of the subjects of the metropolitan country and the obvious racist attitude towards the colonial people. However, many factors in The Moonstone, such as the selection of time setting, plot arrangement, characterization and so on, can also be interpreted completely in the opposite way: Collins raises certain doubts and challenges to the colonial mentality. Collins’s choice of India as the setting is closely related to the Indian mercenary riots of 1857. The rioting started when the British authorities used butter and lard as lubricants for bullet clips that needed to be chewed through the mouth, and the mercenaries were mostly Hindus or Muslims. To them, touching the oil on these clips meant blasphemy against religion. Angry soldiers rioted, killing not only the British boss but also the innocent. Most of the reports in the British media distorted the facts of the case, and for a time, the name “bloodthirsty Indian” was constantly heard. Collins and Dickens collaborated on an article called “The Perils of Certain English Prisoners,” which exposed the insidious, cunning, and hypocrisy of colored people and praised the qualities of British soldiers. The Moonstone was written on the tenth anniversary of the riots, and newspapers and magazines are full of memories, memorials or reflections on the events. By this time, many British people had come to understand the truth and felt that the British authorities had been wrong to disregard the Indian soldiers’ religious beliefs, and Collins’s views had changed subtly. In the novel, his view of the relationship between Britain and India is no longer a simple tribute to the British empire, but an indirect expression of his deep reflection. The plot arrangement and characterization of the novel also reveal Collins’ questioning and criticism of the so-called noble morality of the colonists.

Several of the Englishmen involved in the jewel were from the upper middle class, but the cruelty and greed of Colonel Herncastle, who first grabbed the jewel, goes without saying, and the image of Abel White, the real black hand in the jewel theft, is ironic. The final collapse of the case exposed Abel White as a hypocritical English gentleman. He is the suitor of Rachel, the heroine. He is of noble birth, well-educated and has a noble career as a lawyer. He attends church regularly and is enthusiastic in organizing and participating in various charitable activities. He was a fine young man of uncommon appearance. He had a round, bright face, a ruddy complexion, and lovely blond hair. However, when the mystery is solved, his double identity is revealed: the bright surface conceals the dark inner heart, he not only leads a dissolved life, but also embezzles the client’s funds. After the financial crisis, in order to avoid ruin, he took the risk of stealing precious stones. It is intriguing that Collins has named such a sanctimonious figure Abel White. The image of an Indian was in stark contrast to Abel White’s imposing appearance. In the eyes of several narrators, the Indians are dark skinned, obtuse, and have a manner reminiscent of snakes. However, they had a clear goal and a firm belief. In order to retrieve the stolen holy moonstone, they broke the religious rules and sacrificed their lives to trace all the way to England, and finally returned the gem to its owner by tenacious perseverance, superhuman patience and shrewd calculation. The explorer concludes the novel by describing a grand Hindu religious ceremony celebrating the return of the jewel. His reverence rose to the page as he spoke of the three men going their separate ways, with the congregation around them making way for them in silence. The moonstone becomes a yardstick to measure the good and evil of human nature and a mirror to reflect the character’s morality.

Reflected in this mirror, the “barbarian” in the eyes of the Europeans became the guardian of virtue, while the English gentleman had forgotten what was virtuous. So when Abel White, the “capable white man”, is murdered by an Indian, the mood conveyed by the novel is not one of indignation, but of sympathy, admiration and relief that justice has been done. The moonstone is a sacred object of Hinduism. This gem is no longer just a physical indicator, but a spiritual and cultural sustenance. The twists and turns of its fate revealed that the economy of the English country estate was closely related to the colony. Events in the colony would eventually spread to the British mainland and cause social unrest in Britain. The moonstone exposes the brutality and greed of the colonists, reflecting their moral corruption and hypocrisy under the guise of religion and civilization. Moreover, through the influence of the gem on the family of the British gentry, the author implies that colonial affairs destroy the traditional social and family hierarchy order: only when the colonial gems leave the British mainland, the British family can restore normal order. Another theme of the novel is to celebrate Rachel’s pursuit of love, even though her pursuit is full of difficulties. She falls in love with Franklin before her birthday party, but on the night of the party, after witnessing him steal the moonstone, she begins to doubt their love. But no matter how sad she was, she chose to sacrifice her reputation for secrecy to protect Franklin. In the novel, there are three Indians who follow in the footsteps of the moonstone, and their task is to keep searching for the moonstone, without fear of sacrifice, even through generations of efforts, until the stone is returned to its original place. Rachel’s sacrifice was in the name of love, and the sacrifice of the three Indians was in the name of faith. The two kinds of sacrifice echoed and supported each other.

The horror and mystery reflected in The Moonstone is one of the important features of Gothic literature. Readers are always in the process of guessing the murderer, guessing wrong, continuing to guess and guessing wrong. Only by reading the ending did we discover who the real killer was. In The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins has a remarkably precise command of time and space, one of the basic abilities that most mystery novels have. In terms of narrative structure, the novel is just like drama and film shooting, which is divided into prologue, first part, second part and epilogue. In the second part, there are six stories to tell. The time of the narrative remains the same, and the gems are stolen one by one — the truth comes out, but after the jewel is stolen, the events in the second part are told separately by the six men, as if the police were looking for clues and inquiring about relevant personnel, and the parts of the six men’s separate stories seem to be independent. The overlap of time and the intersection of space weave an impenetrable web. Narration, flashbacks and interludes in space and time make the plot messy and complex, close and scattered, and the readers’ mood is controlled by the author. There are traps in Wilkie Collins’s narrative that draw the reader’s mind in mysterious and conspiring directions, yet he is so grounded in the goodness of human nature that, just when you want to believe in it, another well-reasoned accident pulls back a plot that has gone far. Finally, you seem to know how the gem came back to India, and you seem not to know. This kind of looming narrative is extraordinarily precise in its transformation of narrative vision. In the dialogue of the characters, the defects of the previous character are written back or made up, and the whole picture is reflected afterwards where random incident causes an uncontrollable scene.

-Coreen C.