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The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession

The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession

3.7 60
by Paulo Coelho

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The narrator of The Zahir is a bestselling novelist who lives in Paris and enjoys all the privileges money and celebrity bring. His wife of ten years, Esther, is a war correspondent who has disappeared along with a friend, Mikhail, who may or may not be her lover.

Was Esther kidnapped, murdered, or did she simply escape a marriage that left her


The narrator of The Zahir is a bestselling novelist who lives in Paris and enjoys all the privileges money and celebrity bring. His wife of ten years, Esther, is a war correspondent who has disappeared along with a friend, Mikhail, who may or may not be her lover.

Was Esther kidnapped, murdered, or did she simply escape 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 finds the narrator and promises to reunite him with his wife. In his attempt to recapture a lost love, the narrator discovers something unexpected about himself.

Editorial Reviews

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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The Zahir

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 café on the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré.

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 saywhere 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 . . .

The Zahir. Copyright © by Paulo Coelho. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

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 over 175 million copies worldwide, and The Alchemist has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 360 weeks.

Paulo Coelho has been a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters since 2002, and in 2007, he was appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace. He is also the most followed author on social media.

Brief Biography

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date of Birth:
August 24, 1947
Place of Birth:
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Left law school in second year

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The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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?
MariaSavva_Author More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
The Zahir is the sixth stand-alone book by Brazil-born author, Paulo Coelho. It is translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. Esther, a journalist and the wife of a best-selling author disappears from their home in Paris. Once the police release him from custody, dismissing the idea that he may have been responsible, he begins to wonder what has happened. He is soon convinced that she left him voluntarily, despite her occasionally dangerous job as a war correspondent. For two years, he remains obsessed about learning the reason she left him. The first thing the narrator does is find himself a girlfriend. Then, suitably catered for sexually, he laments his inability to understand why his wife left him. As the narrator (eventually, after more than two years) sets about looking for her, the tale is filled with waffle about finding oneself, pure divine energy, spiritual journey, and energy of love flowing around the world. Much of it seems to be a vehicle for expressing the author’s opinion about topics like wealth, sex and fidelity, marriage, and power. From the narrator’s history it would seem that this story is largely autobiographical. The author must have quite some charisma in person, because on paper his attitude and arrogance are unappealing. The dialogue is wooden (although perhaps this is a function of the translation); the prose is dull; much of the story feels contrived. This book might appeal to men of a Latin background who fancy themselves on a spiritual journey.
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Vincent_Dorsey More than 1 year ago
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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1996JN More than 1 year ago
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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