on 27 November 2008
This was my first dip into Coelho; I bought it as it appeared to be one of the few books by a decent author at Manchester airport. Unfortunately, I am left hugely disappointed by a book that is repetitive, self-indulgent and wholly lacking in depth; I felt no empathy for any of the characters and feel none the wiser nor enriched for having stuck it through to the end. I look forward to reading The Alchemist but can only hope that it is a class above the juvenile drivel on offer in The Zahir.
on 1 March 2013
As it was recommended to me, and it combines exotic locations with an exploration of human relations, I'd hoped I'd find this book at worst interesting,and possibly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the more of it I read the more dire it became.
Several other reviewers have commented that the author is unable to explain his philosophy of human love, despite writing about it for page after rambling page, and how difficult it is to empathise with the bumptious main character/narrator. True though both those points are, the real problem with the book is that the writing is just so wooden. This was highlighted by comparing The Zahir with the books I read immediately before and after it. In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami's plot is far more bizarre and unlikely than that of The Zahir, but his characters emerge as believable individuals the reader can identify with and be concerned about. Coelho's cast, apart from the narrator/main character seem more or less interchangeable. They are not even as complex as stereotypes, just cast members who are defined by what they do rather than who they are. Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux isn't a 100% success, but he certainly succeeds in showing how complex cultural differences are, and how countries and landscapes differ. By comparison, Coelho's Kazakhstan seems almost identical to the beach at Weston-super-Mare. Both have a great deal of sand, but you cross one on a donkey, the other by horse. The Zahir/heroine sleeps with at least two men who are not her husband while staying in a small Kazakh village, and yet retains the respect of the local women to the extent that they welcome her as a teacher. Such a scenario might be feasible in Weston-super-Mare, but scarcely in an isolated village in Central Asia (or rural Eire come to that matter, I suspect). The Kazakhstan of Coelho is as much a fictional construct as that of Borat, but painted with less detail or panache.
I hope I haven't hurt the feelings of those doubtless sincere people who have explained that this book changed their lives or opened their eyes. It had a very different effect on me.
I have been a fan of Paulo Coelho for ages and was really looking forward to the release of this novel. I have always loved his books and what they uncover, however, now that I have read it, I am not sure whether I enjoyed it or not.
The story is about a successful author discovering that his wife, who works as a war journalist, has disappeared without trace. Has something terrible happened to her, or has she simply walked out of his life without first giving him a reason? He seems to be unable (or unwilling) to believe the latter, as it was this very woman who encouraged him to write in the first place. However, there is a particular man who seems to know more about his wife than he does, and it is through the help of this man that the author goes on a journey of his own to find his wife again. .
The title of the book itself, The Zahir, comes from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. It is meant to come from Islamic tradition and it means visible, present and incapable of going unnoticed. Anything can become the zahir, and once a person comes into contact with it, it is all they can think about. In Coelho's novel, the wife of the author becomes his zahir, and she is all he can think about since she went.
Coelho examines the very meaning of what it is to be human in this novel, especially in regards to a human in love. Love and obsession are often quite similar, and both can be just as destructive as the other. This, I think, is the essence of what Coelho is trying to put across to his readers in his latest offering. The fact that the main protagonist doesn't have a name applied to him makes you wonder whether this novel is coming from a very personal space of Coelho's soul. It made me wonder as I was reading, is he trying to say that although he has been regarded as a popular and very successful writer on spirituality for years, he is just human underneath it all, and like anyone, he is just as likely to unconciously neglect a person he loves as he develops his own life/career?
It has been a few days now since I finished the book, and although I have thought about it, I am not completely sure why I didn't enjoy this offering as much as his previous books. Maybe my expectation was so great I was bound to be disappointed. Maybe a second reading would make me see things a different way, and I could appreciate it more. Die hard fans of Coelho will probably enjoy it, but I suggest if you are new to his work begin with THE ALCHEMIST, VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE, or BY THE RIVER PIEDRA I SAT DOWN AND WEPT.
on 24 December 2010
This is my sixth Coelho book, for me they've been very hit and miss. I'm not really a spiritual person, and I'm far from religious, but I approach his books with an open mind. My favourite books are those that involve adventure and travel, which is why The Alchemist and The Fifth Mountain are far and away my favourites. They took the reader on a journey. The more spiritual books, such as River Piedra, though not my thing, were still quite readable. This book, however, was a real struggle.
It begins well. Different to many of his other books and you feel that this could be a gripping read, a break from his usual style. I waited for the main character to begin his journey to foreign lands to search for his wife but it soon becomes apparent that this is more of the same old regurgitated material I've read many times before from him. Stuff about not being brave enough to break away from the rules imposed by society, try something different, explore the meaning of love, listen to your heart etc. What is particularly tiresome is the repeated notion that couples who are in a long term relationship, continuing a routine for many years and say they're happy are not really happy; they are putting on a facade for the sake of their marriage. There's far too much of this in the middle of the book leaving very thin ends. It's also unconvincing. There's nothing to stop me feeling that this is just a guy who never got on with his wife and only missed her because he was lonely, not because there was anything about her that he liked. Also, when he first meets the man who knows where his wife is, he remains surprisingly calm considering that, at that point, he is not yet a changed man.
Most irritating however, is the fact that this book is blatantly based upon himself (the main character is not given a name). Either he should write an autobiography, or write something fictional. This is too close to being real, which I find very distracting and a bit insulting. Using the main character, Coelho seems to be using the book as a vehicle for responding to his critics, for explaining why none of his books have been adapted to films and dare I say it, to boast about his wealth and his lifestyle. It's totally unfair on the readers. In one example, the best selling, world famous author is being interviewed by a journalist who asks why he think the critics are so hard on his work. The author responds by explaining the Law of Jante: if you are a nobody your work deserves to be praised, but if you climb out of mediocrity and are a success then you a defying the law and deserve to be punished. This sounds like arrogance to me.
There are some interesting parts, like the description of the Tengri culture of Kazakhstan, and I liked the analogy of two railway tracks which are used to describe the paths of two people in a relationship. If you read what the book is about in the question and answer session with Coelho at the end of the book, it sounds like it could be a great book, but it never materialises. If you've read a few of his other books, there's nothing new here, hence the low rating. If it's your first Coelho book then it will give you a good idea of what he's about, if you can tolerate his egotism.
I used to be a fan of Coelho but I've lost respect for him. I'll be looking for books with a lot more substance from now on.
on 14 June 2005
I am a huge fan of Coelho's work and wait with baited breath for the for his latest book to be published. I don't mind admiting that I have even asked friends of mine, fluent in Coelho's native tongue, to read me the books that have not yet been published in English. However, the Zahir has left me feeling troubled, and not because I did not enjoy his work, but because yet again Coelho has made me reach into my soul and take a deeper look at my life. I was 19 when i first read the Alchemist, and now seven years on I feel that that same sense of confusion that I did in my teenage years. Yet finally i feel content because The Zahir, explains so clearly that to feel this way is the best way to live life. Paulo manages to explain through his own personal loss and gain what Gilbran tried to explain in his love letters. I truely believe that only by trying to make sense of all of the bad times can you truely apreciate the great. This book had touched my heart and further opened my eyes to the world around me. Paulo Coelho I thank you from the depths of my soul for helping my on the journey to get rid myself of the pain of the past. if like me you ever become feel just that little lost, I suggest that you take time to read The Zahir
on 24 June 2006
This is a book to read and think about ... its quite a simple tale really - obsession - certainly, but also how we don't always value what we have, until its gone that is. Its certainly semi-autobiographical - dealing with a famous author whose wife leaves him, without any reason or news of where she has gone .... the book investigates his reactions and how he goes about finding her....
I'm not saying this is a literary masterpiece - indeed his writing is often villified ... but he's a popular author with something to say. Not always sure the critics are comfortable with his popularity but this book is well worth a read ... just read between lines and you may take something more away from it...
I've returned once again to one of my favorite authors to review his latest work. Paulo Coelho of international fame for The Alchemist, 11 Minutes and The Devil and Miss Prym, has released his latest The Zahir. According to the book, the Zahir in Arabic means present, visible, incapable of being unnoticed. It is something that grabs our thought, mind and spirit and demands our full attention. It is believed to lead to either Holiness or madness. In this book, the Zahir is a woman, an idea of a woman, a longing. Our main character sounds very familiar to our author; in fact our hero is a famous author now living in Paris, with his books being published in nearly every language. (which sounds like Mr. Coelho. This book is being published in 50 countries/languages this year alone. [...]) The author writes books that millions love, adore, and claim changes their lives. Yet he appears to have stopped living the type of deliberate life he writes about. He has settled into a complacent life.
Then one day his wife disappears. Over time she becomes his Zahir; he writes a book about love and for a while the Zahir fades. Then he meets the man he believes she had left with and the Zahir returns.
This is a wonderful story about becoming, and remembering who you were meant to be, not who you settled into. It will stir in you a passion to be more than you think you can be, and, to give more, and love more purely. Follow a man who goes in search of an estranged wife, only to find himself.
This is not the best I have read from Paulo Coelho, but as always I know I’m going to remember some of the profound messages it portrays. I’m still thinking about ‘Eleven Minutes’ some two years on, and ‘The Alchemist’ was apparently life-changing for many of the 27 million who have read it (so far). Of course the writer has his critics but I wonder if some of those are on his wavelength, or even have the capacity or desire to be. In The Zahir, a man with no name wonders why his wife of ten years has left him, and as is the case with most of Coelho’s novels, a pilgrimage begins which leads the central character to question his or her purpose in life and the things that truly matter. In this novel the unnamed man is a very successful writer, which I personally found uncomfortable because I was constantly wondering if this tale was partly or even wholly autobiographical; Coelho acknowledges that at least one of the characters is based on a person with the same name and nationality, and the book itself is dedicated to the author’s wife Christina – could she be, in fact, the Zahir who becomes something of an obsession in the unnamed writer’s life? Personally I found this lingering doubt to be a distraction, particularly because the writer speaks somewhat arrogantly if not egotistically about his career and achievements, and I would hope that this differs from Coelho in real life.
Despite the theme of love and its eternal energy that we are indirectly urged to embrace, the central unnamed character gives the impression of a man with somewhat shallow feelings; he has been married three times or more and even in his latest marriage he concedes to occasional acts of infidelity which in my view serve to undermine his credibility as a man worthy of the woman he is married to. He finds new ‘love’ not long after his wife’s unexplained disappearance and continues to flirt, or invite sexual encounters, so I for one felt unattached to his emotional dilemma.
In spite of that, there was plenty to make me think about some of those intellectual, philosophical and spiritual issues that seem to occur in most of Coelho’s work. Some of his observations border on the cynical, for example his compartmentalisations of relationships in high society or simply between a husband and a wife, the observations made have a touch of condescension about them yet maybe they are more accurate than some of us would like to think. Central to this line of thinking is that age-old question : ‘What is love?’ and to an extent the author tries to offer his ideas of what love is and more often his opinions of the hypocrisies and denials many of us live within during our married lives. As in Eleven Minutes he dehumanises love (or at least our popular conception of it) and presents us with a picture of the love that we can find at the end of a spiritual tunnel, a painful one that we seem to have to traverse in order to find it. It’s a difficult subject to approach and is bound to attract criticism but the open-minded reader will find it interesting and perhaps worth pursuing. I don’t think I read anything categorically new in The Zahir but it was elegantly written and is a worthwhile read for anyone looking not so much for the meaning of life, but the purpose of it, and the things that really matter.
on 25 April 2011
This book was too awful to be classed as the worst book I have ever read - it is by itself in its own super-awful category, not fit to be placed on the same scale as any of the many others I have read in my lifetime. On the plus side, it may provide a useful aid for anyone wanting to make themselves vomit - any page taken at random should do the trick.
I finished it for two reasons: firstly, I never feel it is fair to judge a book unless I have actually read it through and secondly, I developed a sort of morbid fascination as I read, wondering what next piece of clap-trap or arrogance or mis-information would make me shout out in horror or indignation.
The main character is an author with a personal profile and history very similar to Coelho's own, and the narrative style leaves one with a very strong impression that Coelho is using this book as a platform on which to directly force upon us his very own views and feelings. We are left in no doubt that our hero is rich and important and goes to important meetings and meets other important people and gives important lectures. He is self-obsessed and has no interest in other people unless they are either totally focused upon him and his needs or useful to him. He scorns others across the board and projects his own interpretation on what they are feeling and thinking - the conclusion being roughly that anybody who is not himself is leading a miserable little life. In short, the narrator is obnoxious. The other characters are dimensionless and it is difficult to give a stuff about any of them. They do not actually chat to each other or have realistic dialogues - their conversations consist of spouting tortured and dubious philosophies to each other which are, presumably, supposed to be enlightening but had me groaning in anguish.
I found the book extremely badly written (or badly translated) and badly put together with anecdotal or apocryphal stories (some of which I have heard before) being stuck into the dialogues to make some point or other. The characters are also very generous with their misinformation. For example, our hero, during one of his interminable pontificating sessions, claims to have closely studied the story of Saint Bernadette and her visions of the "Immaculate Conception" which he states can be translated roughly as "Birth without Sex". This is a very common MIS-conception - a confusion of the meaning of "Immaculate Conception" with the "Incarnation of Jesus Christ", but not one that should be propagated by a self-acclaimed expert on the "visions", suggesting that the author didn't even bother to google Wikipedia to get his facts straight. Another howler comes when the author/hero is leaving hospital after a nasty accident and is seeking reassurance from his doctor that he will not die as a result of the accident. The wise doc, amongst other things, suggests that there is always "the possibilty that a cell has gone beserk and is starting to form cancer". This is utter twaddle and not worthy of any writer except one who can ensure that no-one will ever read their silly, misleading nonsense.
I leave you with a very fine example of the tortured English in this book:
"My muscles were furiously stretching and contracting in order to produce energy and keep my organism alive." - That is to say, he was shivering!
Pass the sick bag.
on 11 September 2009
I have just done something which as a bibliophile I find rather shocking - I have put a book in the bin. It is 'The Zahir' by Paulo Coelho, and it is the worst book I have ever read. Where to start? It is stunningly badly written. Coelho is either barely literate in his native language, or he put the translation job out to tender and took the cheapest quote. He is also astoundingly vain and humourless - or at least his main character is, who I take to be a not particularly well disguised avatar of himself. This is a book with pretensions to grandeur, with hints that the author has found a way to discover and profit from a profound spirituality. But what it actually is is a piece of shallow and pretentious pseudo-philosophy in which vacuous and unpleasant characters of very dubious moral value witter on in an infuriatingly vague way about 'love' - a word which Coelho never bothers to define. It is a book which I shall remember for only one notable feature - that at one point the narcissistic sentimentality reached such a point that I actually felt physically ill. Read the first paragraph of the last chapter and see if it has the same effect on you.