The Zahir, written by Paulo Coelho, narrates the story of a bestselling novelist who lives in Paris and enjoys all the luxuries that money and fame bring. He is happy and married to Esther– a war correspondent from 10 years until she disappears from his life, leaving behind no message, letter, or address. He is pressed with questions that remain unanswered, and his life revolves around his wife or ex wife (as he finds himself wondering), which becomes his “Zahir”- his obsession and the way out of agony and misery.
The writing is somewhat flat. The examples in the story are not very convincing. The name of the protagonist is not revealed throughout the story. His marriage runs through a dry spell when his wife comes across a character named “Mikhail”, to whom she speaks of very fondly initially but does not mention later. He has all the material happiness but his soul searches for his lost love. He needs a closure and is traumatized by this sudden turn of events. At a point, he writes, “A year later, I wake thinking about the story by Borges, about something which, once touched or seen, can never be forgotten, and which gradually so fills our thoughts that we are driven to madness. My Zahir is not a romantic metaphor — a blind man, a compass, a tiger, or a coin. It has a name, and her name is Esther.” He then embarks on an internal journey, which no matter how hard the writer tries, that does not create the idea of the central characters personal transformation. However, it would be unfair to write off the book completely. The search for self, letting go of one’s ego, and taking a step towards the unknown dark, makes a worthy plot and opens up new possibilities for the reader.
Mikhail, with his bizarre powers and the weird group of beggars, is a little off track. Coelho’s generalisations aren’t suitable and do not match everybody’s sensibilities. Some things, though, are aptly put. He states, “One thing that prevents our amazing success in life is the fear of our true potential”. However, we rate it a 3 on 5.