The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession

( 59 )


"Set in Paris and in the enchanting landscape of Central Asia, this novel by the author of The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes follows the journey of a man obsessed with finding the wife who left him without an explanation." "The narrator of The Zahir is a bestselling novelist who lives in Paris and enjoys all the privileges that money and celebrity bring. His wife of ten years, Esther, is a war correspondent who, despite her professional success and freedom from the conventional constraints of marriage, is facing an existential crisis. When she
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"Set in Paris and in the enchanting landscape of Central Asia, this novel by the author of The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes follows the journey of a man obsessed with finding the wife who left him without an explanation." "The narrator of The Zahir is a bestselling novelist who lives in Paris and enjoys all the privileges that money and celebrity bring. His wife of ten years, Esther, is a war correspondent who, despite her professional success and freedom from the conventional constraints of marriage, is facing an existential crisis. When she disappears along with a friend, Mikhail, who may or may not be her lover, the authorities question the narrator. Was Esther kidnapped, killed, or did she simply abandon a marriage that left her unfulfilled? The narrator doesn't have any answers but he has plenty of questions of his own." Then one day Mikhail, the man with whom Esther was last seen, finds the narrator and promises to take him to his wife. In his attempt to recapture a love lost, the narrator discovers something unexpected about himself.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In this absorbing novel, the author of The Alchemist retrieves the Zahir, the token that Borges used as the symbol of a consuming obsession. In this instance, the object of obsession is the wife of a famed novelist who disappears inexplicably while returning home from a family trip.
Publishers Weekly
The press chat cites 65 million copies of Coelho's eight previous novels in print, making the Brazilian author one of the world's bestselling novelists (150 countries and 56 languages). This book, whose title means "the present" or "unable to go unnoticed" in Arabic, has an initial staggered laydown of eight million copies in 83 countries and 42 languages. It centers on the narrator's search for his missing wife, Esther, a journalist who fled Iraq in the runup to the present war, only to disappear from Paris; the narrator, a writer, is freed from suspicion when his lover, Marie, comes forward with a (true) alibi. He seeks out Mikhail, the man who may be Esther's most recent lover and with whom she was last seen, who has abandoned his native Kazakhstan for a kind of speaking tour on love. Mikhail introduces the narrator to a global underground "tribe" of spiritual seekers who resist, somewhat vaguely, conventional ways of living. Through the narrator's journey from Paris to Kazakhstan, Coelho explores various meanings of love and life, but the impact of these lessons is diminished significantly as they are repeated in various forms by various characters. Then again, 65 million readers can't be wrong; the spare, propulsive style that drove The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes and Coelho's other books will easily carry fans through myriad iterations of the ways and means of amor. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Finding himself in the grips of "the Zahir," a Middle Eastern expression for an all-encompassing obsession, the narrator, a successful novelist, reexamines his life and marriage in an effort to break the bonds of his fixation. His wife, Esther, a war correspondent, has disappeared, last seen with a younger man in a caf , and the narrator's search for her leads him on an expansive physical and spiritual quest. From Paris to Kazakhstan, the novelist encounters a number of cultures and subcultures with varying views of and preconceptions about love and the achievement of ultimate happiness. Brazilian author Coelho, known for such best-selling inspirational fables as The Alchemist, has written an enlightening story of faith and the reclamation of pure love. Personal elements incorporating his own experiences as an author and his pilgrimages to various exotic locations lend the novel a highly autobiographical feel. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Joy St. John, Henderson Dist. P.L., NV Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
On the road again-to spiritual and sexual fulfillment, as promised by the megabestselling Brazilian author of The Alchemist . Coelho's latest (not to be distinguished from any of its predecessors) is the "story" of a rich and famous author of inspirational fiction (to whom the critics are really mean) whose wife, a distinguished war correspondent, inexplicably disappears, presumably in the company of her young translator, who hails from the Mysterious East. The narrator broods for 200 or so pages, repeatedly re-summarizes his life and opinions, charms every woman he meets, debates the ethics of spousal appropriation when the translator (Mikhail) reappears, then-following countless pages of rhetorical foreplay-undertakes a healing pilgrimage to Mikhail's territory (Kazakhstan). The wife he's seeking, you see, has become his "Zahir"-in Islamic thought, "something which, once touched or seen, can never be forgotten, and which gradually so fills our thoughts that we are driven to madness." (Like this book, perhaps?) Little happens en route, though upon arriving at a railway station the narrator perceives that "the tracks seemed to be saying something about my marriage, and about all marriages." (Wait! Yes, I hear them. They're saying "drivel, drivel, drivel.") Abstractions, bromides and oversimplifications abound, as Coelho's scarcely fictionalized narrator holds forth on freedom, love, the "Divine Energy" through which love flows and the enigma of self-realization ("Before I could find her, I must find myself"). Coelho's plain prose does go down easily, and is no more a challenge to the intellect than Jell-o is to the esophagus. Costa dutifully renders Coelho's pronouncements as blandnessincarnate, politely declining to correct recurring syntactical barbarisms (e.g., "No one should ever ask themselves that"). One final gem of wisdom: "It is always important to know when something has reached its end." The Zahir ends on page 298. You're welcome.
New York Times
“Coelho is a novelist who writes in a universal language.”
“If you read Coelho’s book The Alchemist, then you should definitely read this.... There’s really no one else like him.”
“Likely to entrance even the most cynical of readers.”
Edmonton Journal (Alberta)
“A fast-moving, captivating, both satirical and thoughtful novel about love and desire.”
Marie Claire
“Fans of Paulo Coelho will love this eloquent meditation on commitment--as will anyone who’s ever been in a relationship.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780007220854
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/2007
  • Sales rank: 1,171,340

Meet the Author

Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, is one of the bestselling and most influential authors in the world. The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, The Valkyries, Brida, Veronika Decides to Die, Eleven Minutes, The Zahir, The Witch of Portobello, The Winner Stands Alone, Aleph, Manuscript Found in Accra, and Adultery, among others, have sold 150 million copies worldwide.

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    1. Hometown:
      Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 24, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    1. Education:
      Left law school in second year
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Zahir

A Novel of Obsession
By Paulo Coelho


ISBN: 0-06-082521-9

Chapter One

Her name is Esther; she is a war correspondent who has just returned from Iraq because of the imminent invasion of that country; she is thirty years old, married, without children. He is an unidentified male, between twenty-three and twenty-five years old, with dark, Mongolian features. The two were last seen in a cafe on the Rue du Faubourg St-Honore.

The police were told that they had met before, although no one knew how often: Esther had always said that the man - who concealed his true identity behind the name Mikhail - was someone very important, although she had never explained whether he was important for her career as a journalist or for her as a woman.

The police began a formal investigation. Various theories were put forward - kidnapping, blackmail, a kidnapping that had ended in murder - none of which were beyond the bounds of possibility given that, in her search for information, her work brought her into frequent contact with people who had links with terrorist cells. They discovered that, in the weeks prior to her disappearance, regular sums of money had been withdrawn from her bank account: those in charge of the investigation felt that these could have been payments made for information. She had taken no change of clothes with her, but, oddly enough, her passport was nowhere to be found.

He is a stranger, very young, with no police record, with no clue as to his identity.

She is Esther, thirty years old, the winner of two international prizes for journalism, and married.

My wife.

I immediately come under suspicion and am detained because I refuse to say where I was on the day she disappeared. However, a prison officer has just opened the door of my cell, saying that I'm a free man.

And why am I a free man? Because nowadays, everyone knows everything about everyone; you just have to ask and the information is there: where you've used your credit card, where you spend your time, whom you've slept with. In my case, it was even easier: a woman, another journalist, a friend of my wife, and divorced - which is why she doesn't mind revealing that she slept with me - came forward as a witness in my favor when she heard that I had been detained. She provided concrete proof that I was with her on the day and the night of Esther's disappearance.

I talk to the chief inspector, who returns my belongings and offers his apologies, adding that my rapid detention was entirely within the law, and that I have no grounds on which to accuse or sue the state. I say that I haven't the slightest intention of doing either of those things, that I am perfectly aware that we are all under constant suspicion and under twenty-four-hour surveillance, even when we have committed no crime.

"You're free to go," he says, echoing the words of the prison officer.

I ask: Isn't it possible that something really has happened to my wife? She had said to me once that - understandably given her vast network of contacts in the terrorist underworld - she occasionally got the feeling she was being followed.

The inspector changes the subject. I insist, but he says nothing.

I ask if she would be able to travel on her passport, and he says, of course, since she has committed no crime. Why shouldn't she leave and enter the country freely?

"So she may no longer be in France?"

"Do you think she left you because of that woman you've been sleeping with?"

That's none of your business, I reply. The inspector pauses for a second and grows serious; he says that I was arrested as part of routine procedure, but that he is nevertheless very sorry about my wife's disappearance. He is married himself and although he doesn't like my books (So he isn't as ignorant as he looks! He knows who I am!), he can put himself in my shoes and imagine what I must be going through.

I ask him what I should do next. He gives me his card and asks me to get in touch if I hear anything. I've watched this scene in dozens of films, and I'm not convinced; inspectors always know more than they say they do.

He asks me if I have ever met the person who was with Esther the last time she was seen alive. I say that I knew his code name, but didn't know him personally.

He asks if we have any domestic problems. I say that we've been together for ten years and have the same problems most married couples have - nothing more.

He asks, delicately, if we have discussed divorce recently, or if my wife was considering leaving me. I tell him we have never even considered the possibility, and say again that "like all couples" we have our occasional disagreements.

Frequent or only occasional?

Occasional, I say.

He asks still more delicately if she suspected that I was having an affair with her friend. I tell him that it was the first - and last - time that her friend and I had slept together. It wasn't an affair; it came about simply because we had nothing else to do. It had been a bit of a dull day, neither of us had any pressing engagements after lunch, and the game of seduction always adds a little zest to life, which is why we ended up in bed together.

"You go to bed with someone just because it's a bit of a dull day?"

I consider telling him that such matters hardly form part of his investigations, but I need his help, or might need it later on. There is, after all, that invisible institution called the Favor Bank, which I have always found so very useful ...


Excerpted from The Zahir by Paulo Coelho Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 59 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2012

    Obsession? Yes, but letting go is more the point.

    Beautiful, poetic, but earthy reality to non-traditional love that makes you wish this type of passion....of wanting....of willingness to put aside egos, everything we think is important, to find love within, despite tumultuous pasts, frayed upbringings, neural structures that just focus on the "me"....oh, the point? That is real fairytale love. The kind that will teach and you will want to learn, lest you go crazy in the not knowing. It even seems safe to say, if the love doesn't drive you a bit mad, it's probably not worth it. How far would you go, not just in distance, but in action...even if it is painful growth...for the one you love?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A novel of obsession

    I hadn't read a Paulo Coelho book for a while and this book has reminded me what I love about his writing. I am definitely intending to read more of his work. I love the way the prose pulls you in and keeps you interested. There are many inspirational and spiritual passages in the novel which seem to be written with the intention of giving hope and direction to the reader.
    The book is about an internationally acclaimed author whose wife has disappeared. She is a War correspondent and, therefore, the husband does not know whether she left him, or whether she was kidnapped or something far worse. One day a man appears at one of the author's book signings with a message from the wife to say that she is okay. The husband then becomes increasingly obsessed with idea of finding her. She becomes his 'Zahir' which is defined as something which, once seen or touched, can not be forgotten. We follow the husband in his journey to find his wife, and also in his own personal spiritual journey along the way.
    It is described as a novel of 'obsession' and, in my view, Paulo has done a great job in writing the book in such a way that the reader has almost a compulsion to read on to find out what happens - almost as if the book becomes an obsession.
    The book isn't perfect, so I can't give it five stars. I did find it a bit confusing in places, as there are often long conversations in the book between characters (sometimes multiple characters) without reference as to who is the speaker. Also, the lack of quotation marks at the beginning of new paragraphs when a character was making a speech or talking over a few paragraphs, was a bit annoying and also confusing.
    Finally, I was quite disappointed with the ending; for me it was too predictable and a bit contrived.
    But on the whole I enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2005

    Coehlo's Obsession is Not What You Think

    I loved this book. My coworkers and I had talked about setting up a staff picks wall in the bookstore where we work. Reading Coehlo's book made it an imperative and the wall was created the very next day: I had to let people know about this book. It's funny, thought -provoking and joyful to the soul in a way that is inexplicable (it touched me in ways I'm still trying to grasp). And don't be fooled by the cover which says that the book is about obsession. It is about love and freedom.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2014



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  • Posted August 20, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    For Someone who loves his work

    I grew up reading The Alchemist, ever since i could read i was reading it. At first was a tale of adventure, then suddenly became the first book with a message i found worth understanding. The Zahir is a book that makes you actually think. there were times where i was unaware of what was going to come next. but the ideas that are presented are something you may share with friends or family. i would recommend this to any one who has loved Paulo Coelho's other books.

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  • Posted June 7, 2011

    It truly is a novel of obsession

    This book spoke so much about life, So much of what he said was true. It seems like he has experienced life in many different point of views. In this book, he loses his wife because he's gotten caught up in his everyday routines which made his life somewhat boring. He had everything anyone could've hoped for :money, fame, courage, etc. But why was his wife not happy ? She left him because they started to "grow apart ". His wife, esther, would speak of a young man named mikhail. He met mikhail and wondered if he was his wife's lover. He grew obsessed with The "zahir which represented his wife. He went all the way to Central china in the steppes to find her. He realized all he needed was her to be happy . (:

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2009

    Great book

    I really loved this book. Very original story and non-conventional development. Could not put it down, it was hard to resist temptation not to look ahead.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    The Zahir a novel of Obsession

    The Zahir by Paulo Coelho is a great book to get lost in. Coelho makes it difficult for the reader not to get interested in the story of the narrator. Though he has every thing he has ever wanted he feels empty with out his wife. His wife has left him for reasons he does not comprehend until he is taken on a journey with his wife¿s much younger boyfriend. Though he does not realize at the time, this new man will teach the narrator things about himself that he has never known. This book sends the readers on a journey to find their own energy of love and leave their personal history along with the main character. It is brilliant the way Coelho allows you to learn more about yourself as his characters are doing the same thing in his books. The main character is a man that is so human that you cannot help but relate to. He has all the same flows we have as people who can¿t see how great our lives are until it has taken a change for the worst. This book is for any person who has ever fallen in love and has felt that bliss that the narrator is trying to regain in the world. In the beginning of the book it seems that the narrator has just lost his wife though he doesn¿t realize he has lost himself as well. This is a story of a person trying to regain the part of themselves they have lost along the years. The Zahir is a novel of obsession and it shows the reader how obsession can ostracize a person. Paulo Coelho has a wonderful gift of writing about things that impact people in a way they do not realize until they have put the book down. His writing stays in your head and makes its way into the way you look at the world. After reading this book you are tempted to go through the same journey as the main character and take away your own zahirs. Like the narrator you will start to look at the world with different eyes and see what is true instead of what has been told you is true. This book will keep the reader hooked from cover to cover with all the layers of the magnetic characters that are all mirrors into different parts of the human soul.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2006

    A Little Disappointed

    I read 'The Alchemist' approximately 5 years ago. 'The Zahir' is the second book I am reading by him, and I am a little disappointed. The story line is excellent, but I am not sure that Mr. Coelho knew how to unwind the story without it becoming boring along the way. I totally understand what the Zahir is, but I think the book has too many valleys, and very little 'wow' moments. I am going to read some more of his works. I have heard that 'Veronika Must Die' is excellent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2006

    Amazing work of art...

    This book has what so many novels have lacked in so many ways. Being an avid reader and in search for books that not only tell a great story but leaves me feeling I have gained in a way, my own self...The Zahir was so fulfilling. I've read several other books by Mr. Coelho including his prized The Alchemist, and I must say this book ranked right up there with it all. Reading this book, I felt such intense sadness--unexplainable...hollow...emptiness...loss--as I have also felt the reward of finally beginning to SEE the problems around us, the change and taking a life that is ours in our own hands. I loved it. And I would recommend everyone to experience what life is like when we've reached the end of one chapter in life...and finding the courage to start a new one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2006

    One of my favourites from Mr. Coelho.

    It is truly a novel about obsession and perhaps thats the reason it appealed so much to me because I happen to be a pretty obsessive person. At this particular point in time, I am going through an emotional low where the more I try to mend things, they keep getting worse, all because of an obsession of mine. Something in me has changed because of this but I couldn't quite pinpoint it or understand it. That's what this book has helped me do. I was never that big a fan of Paulo Coelho, not even after reading The Alchemist and most of his other books. But after reading this book, I have become a huge fan of his. Definitely one of the best writers to have emerged in a long time. This book is a must-read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    Cant put it down

    Coelho has done it again. This book is possibly a bit less inspiring than some of his others, but still a fantastic read. I hesitated buying a 'romance' story, but 'The Zahir' is much more. This would be 5-star had it had less sensationalism and more concrete 'spirituality'. There are a few less than lively moments early in the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2006

    I am sad in an inexplicable way

    Being an avid fan of Coelho, this novel, unlike any of his other books has left me with a terrible void. I can't quite explain it, yes, it was about true love and personal freedom, but somehow romantism was not a key component. It's ending was what I expected, but not 'How ' i expected it. I was dissapointed, there is not that much selflessness in the world. I love his style of writing,his thought provoking quotes, his ability to make anyone identify themselves with their feelings. I unfortunately did not connect fully with the story line.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2006


    I have read other books written by Paulo Coelho and the Alchemist is a personal favourite. However the Zahir was a dissapointment. After finishing the book, I wondered what the whole point was that Coelho was trying to make?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2005

    Very disappointing

    After reading the Alchemist, I thought this book would provide similar insights, but what a disappointment. I am right in the middle of it and I only continue reading it while putting my baby to sleep. It is self-absorbed, repetitive and superficial, full of bla,bla. I think he got an advance on this book and wrote it in one night just to be done with . The only nice thing about this book was the poem of Ithaca in the preface. Don't waste your time and money on this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2005

    The best book by Coelho

    Being an avid reader of the author, I believe that The Zahir is his masterpiece. It is not often that someone is honest enough to show is soul as a writer, as a magician, and as a man. He is THE PHILOSOPHER of our times. But in a way that everybody can understand (better saying, warriors of the light can understand)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2005

    A Good Effort And An Entertaining Tale

    The question of obsession (cacoethes to the ancient Greeks and Zahir to the Muslims) makes for an interesting treatise set in the backgrounds of Paris and Kazakhstan. I grew interested in the premise through the character's involvement and principally through the main character's growing Zahir...the search for his own wife. Faith and love also become integral to the plot and I believe it was skillfully done in order to advance the central theme. There is, of course, also the inevitable introspection that the protagonist must go through. This component did not detract from the main idea and did fuel it to an extent. There were pages that did drag but overall I enjoyed the pace that was set by the author. Recommended. I also recommend 'Anna's Trinity' by Howard Cobiskey. It is such a beautiful novel regarding the search for God set in the background of a deep mystery that I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2005


    British stage, film and TV actor Jamie Glover gives a sterling performance, immediately intriguing listeners with a mesmerizing story of obsession. Told in the first person by a nameless narrator, Glover ably carries us along on a journey, a search not only for a loved one but also perhaps for meaning, answers to the riddle of life. The narrator is a successful author living in Paris with his wife, Esther, who is an accomplished journalist, a war correspondent. She has just returned from Iraq only to disappear again. It's not known whether she ran away or was kidnaped, whether she is alive or dead. She was last seen with a man younger than she, a man who hid his true identity but was known as Mikhail. Could he be her lover? According to author Coelho the idea of the zahir stems from the Islamic tradition, it means 'incapable of going unnoticed. It can refer to an object or a person, and that object or person gradually takes over our every thought, until we are unable to think of anything else. This could be considered a state of holiness or a state of madness.' We'll leave it to the listener to decide which description is most appropriate for our narrator as he undertakes a journey to find Esther. He knows that she felt a deep unrest and was unsatisfied with her life, although he cannot comprehend why. He was stunned when she announced that she wanted to become a war correspondent, yet he also understood that he could not stand in her way. Brazilian born Paul Coelho (The Alchemist) is very much a fabulist, an extremely fine one. His works have been published in 150 countries and translated into 59 languages. Obviously, his appeal is immense. For this reader/listener one reason so many are drawn to him is that he causes us to think, to probe deeply within ourselves and perhaps reassess what is truly important and what is not. He seems to be reminding us that we change, life changes. Whether my assessment is correct or not the works of this author are gifts, radiant, compelling, and utterly fascinating. - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2005

    Phenomenally Boring Story Of All Times!

    After alchemist I thought this writer to be a thinker, but while reading the Zahir, I literally puked at every incident of this ridiculous writer, seemingly cool with any females he happen to meet. Paulo seems to be obsessed with sex, adultery and deciet and tries to infuse love mechanically for his zahir, it is blasphemy if you talk religion. There is no research or painstaking effort in providing a learning or excitement to the reader. This book is a sheer waste of time and money, I have taken a vow not to read any of his other garbage writings. As an avid reader I can spend money on other bestselling writers, atleast time is well spent on the well researched books like the Da Vinci Code, State of Fear etc.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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