The Zahir

“The Zahir” by Paulo Coelho (Brazil)

Synopsis and Review

“The Zahir”: we can think of nothing else

One day a renowned author discovers that his wife, a war correspondent, has disappeared leaving no trace. Though time brings more success and new love, he remains mystified – and increasingly fascinated – by her absence. Was she kidnapped, blackmailed, or simply bored with their marriage? The unrest she causes is as strong as the attraction she exerts. His search for her – and for the truth of his own life – takes him from South America to Spain, France, Croatia and, eventually, the bleakly beautiful landscape of Central Asia. More than that, it takes him from the safety of his world to a totally unknown path, searching for a new understanding of the nature of love and the power of destiny.

Published in 2005, it was banned in Iran (source: WLT World Literature Today, Vol. 80, No. 5, September-October 2006, p. 25). In May 2005, during the 18th Tehran International Book Fair, authorities confiscated 1,000 copies of the book according to its Iranian publisher, who also added that the country’s Culture Ministry had “become extremely afraid of the increased popularity of Paulo Coelho” (source: BBC News). It seems that the ban was subsequently lifted.

Most members of the Book Club did not warm to the book at all. Those who had already read other novels by Coelho liked it more than those who were reading him for the first time. Some felt that the story was like a collection of clichés pasted together. They thought the characters were not well developed and they did not empathise with the narrator, who they found an unlikeable character. Readers did like the descriptions of some of the places the narrator visits (the streets of Paris, the steppes of Kazakhstan). Others found it an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. They felt the messages in Coelho’s books in general were interesting and that this book, which focuses on the energy of love, could have a positive impact on readers depending on their personal circumstances and especially concerning their relationships. After an interesting discussion, the book averaged a 6.5 out of 10, the lowest score this season.

Nicola’s Book Club reading list 

Season 5 – “Censorship in the 21st Century” (Feb – Jun 2007)

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (U.S.) *
“The Successor” by Ismail Kadare (Albania)
“Beyond Illusions” by Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam)
“From a Crooked Rib” by Nuruddin Farah (Somalia)
“The Zahir” by Paulo Coelho (Brazil)

* The book club favourite
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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