The Destination offering you the free download of: Just FREE paying The best ebooks are available on each and every topic. JAVA, SQL [Zahir. English]. The Zahir: a novel of obsession / Paulo Coelho ; translated from the Portuguese by. PAULO COELHO The Zahir A NOVEL OF OBSESSION Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa O Mary, conceived wi. Author: Coelho Paulo. downloads Views KB Size Report. DOWNLOAD LIT The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession (P.S.) · Read more.
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Also available as: Not in United States? Choose your country's store to see books available for purchase. 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?
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The Lost City of the Monkey God. Douglas Preston. The Map of True Places. Brunonia Barry. Salman Rushdie. Everything You Want Me to Be. Mindy Mejia. Mississippi Blood. Greg Iles. A Piece of the World. Christina Baker Kline. The Clay Girl. Heather Tucker. Bellevue Square. Michael Redhill. The House of Velvet and Glass. Katherine Howe. Girl in the Blue Coat. Monica Hesse. A Year of Marvellous Ways. Sarah Winman. A World I Never Made. James LePore. The Child Finder.
Rene Denfeld. Fates and Furies. Lauren Groff. Christina Lauren. The Bookshop on the Corner. Jenny Colgan. By Gaslight. Steven Price. The Finishing School. Joanna Goodman. We're All in This Together. Amy Jones. Melissa Lenhardt. The Heart's Invisible Furies.
John Boyne. Everything, Everything. Nicola Yoon. Michael Ondaatje. The Imam of Tawi-Tawi. Ian Hamilton. The Sisters. Claire Douglas. Dragon Springs Road. Janie Chang. The Muse. Jessie Burton. The Queen of the Night. Alexander Chee. A House Without Windows. Nadia Hashimi. The Break. Katherena Vermette. Here I Am. Jonathan Safran Foer. Vinegar Girl. Anne Tyler. Lab Girl. Hope Jahren. The Alchemist's Daughter.
Mary Lawrence. Since We Fell. Dennis Lehane. The Accursed. Joyce Carol Oates. After the Bloom. Leslie Shimotakahara. The Light Over London. Julia Kelly. The Alchemist. The Spy. Manuscript Found in Accra. The Supreme Gift. The Winner Stands Alone. The Way of the Bow.
Stories for Parents, Children and Grandchildren: Volume 1. Many of the people I pass must also have their souls in tatters, and I have no idea how or why they are suffering. I go into a bar and buy some cigarettes; the person answers me in English. Before I reach the hotel, I am stopped by two boys just arrived from Toulouse who are looking for a particular shop; they have asked several other people, but no one understands what they say.
Have they changed languages on the Champs-Elysees in the twenty-four hours since I was arrested? It has obviously been a long time since Esther and I met here to drink hot chocolate, even though we have each been away and come back several times during that period. There is always something more important. There is always some unpostponable appointment. My cell phone! I take it out of my pocket and immediately turn it on; it rings several times, and each time my heart turns over.
On the tiny screen I see the names of the people who have been trying to get in touch with me, but reply to none of them. They must be eager to know what happened, they want to help but how? The telephone keeps ringing. Should I answer it? Should I arrange to meet up with some of these people? I reach the Hotel Bristol, which Esther always described as one of the few hotels in Paris where customers are treated like guests rather than homeless people in search of shelter.
I am greeted as if I were a friend of the family; I choose a table next to an exquisite clock; I listen to the piano and look out at the garden. I need to be practical, to study the options; after all, life goes on. I am not the first nor will I be the last man whose wife has left him, but did it have to happen on a sunny day, with everyone in the street smiling and children singing, with the first signs of spring just beginning to show, the sun shining, and drivers stopping at pedestrian crossings?
I pick up a napkin. Response to this possibility: She also withdrew money from her bank. Of all the hypotheses, this is the only one that makes any sense. We suffered, but we never lied to each other, although it was part of the rules of the game not to mention any extramarital affairs. I was aware that she had changed a lot since meeting this fellow Mikhail, but did that justify ending a marriage that has lasted ten years?
We were both free, and we were proud of that. But Esther had disappeared and left clues that were visible only to me, as if it were a secret message: Is that question worth answering? Because hidden in the answer is my own inability to keep the woman I love by my side. Is it worth finding her and persuading her to come back? Begging and imploring her to give our marriage another chance?
That seems ridiculous: It would be better just to lick my wounds, as I had also done in the past. This could take weeks, months, possibly a year or more. My heart might be bruised, but it will recover and become capable of seeing the beauty of life once more.
For a moment, I savor the idea of my new state: I can go out in broad daylight with whomever I want. The news will travel fast, and soon all kinds of women, the young and the not so young, the rich and the not as rich as they would like to be, the intelligent and those trained to say only what they think I would like to hear, will all come knocking at my door.
I want to believe that it is wonderful to be free. Free again. Ready to find my one true love, who is waiting for me and who will never allow me to experience such humiliation again. I finish my hot chocolate and look at the clock; I know it is still too soon for me to be able to enjoy the agreeable feeling that I am once more part of humanity. For a few moments, I imagine that Esther is about to come in through that door, walk across the beautiful Persian carpets, sit down beside me and say nothing, just smoke a cigarette, look out at the courtyard garden and hold my hand.
Half an hour passes, and for half an hour I believe in the story I have just created, until I realize that it is pure fantasy. I decide not to go home. I go over to reception, ask for a room, a toothbrush, and some deodorant. The hotel is full, but the manager fixes things for me: I end up with a lovely suite looking out at the Eiffel Tower, a terrace, the rooftops of Paris, the lights coming on one by one, the families getting together to have Sunday supper.
And the feeling I had in the Champs-Elysees returns: No television. No supper. I sit on the terrace and look back over my life, a young man who dreamed of becoming a famous writer, and who suddenly saw that the reality was completely different — he writes in a language almost no one reads, in a country which is said to have almost no reading public.
He rebels, travels the world during the hippie era, meets a singer, writes a few song lyrics, and is suddenly earning more money than his sister, who listened to what her parents said and decided to become a chemical engineer. I write more songs, the singer goes from strength to strength; I buy a few apartments and fall out with the singer, but still have enough capital not to have to work for the next few years.
I get what I want, but discover that the stability I wanted is inseparable from a deep sense of tedium. Two more divorces. I continue my search for love, I continue writing songs.
One day, a journalist comes to interview me. The more she rejects me, the more interested I become, until, at last, I manage to persuade her to spend a weekend at my house in the country.
I may have been the black sheep of the family, but sometimes rebellion pays off: I was the only one of my friends at that stage in our lives to have bought a house in the country.
We spend three days alone, contemplating the sea. I cook for her, and she tells me stories about her work and ends up falling in love with me. We come back to the city, she starts sleeping at my apartment on a regular basis. One morning, she leaves earlier than usual and returns with her typewriter; from then on, without anything being said, my home becomes her home too.
The same conflicts I had with my previous wives begin to surface: This time, though, the relationship lasts longer. All you expect of us women is that we can cook well. You always want to feel the adrenaline flowing in your veins and you forget that the only thing that should be flowing through them is blood. Give me an example of something important. Then, if you like, we can go our separate ways. What is love? I say that the two things are completely unrelated. I pack my bags, and she goes and reads a book.
She laughs and says I was the one who wanted to end the relationship. We go to bed, and the following day, the desire to leave is not as urgent, and I decide I need to think things through. Except that, if she left, she would do so immediately and bum any bridges that would allow her to come back. I ask her what she means. I sit down at the typewriter. She says that I have the same look in my eye as I did yesterday. The following day I go to work, but that evening I again go over to the desk on which the typewriter is sitting.
Another two months pass, and one day, she comes home bearing a plane ticket. Either I accept it or I forget it.
Where is the ticket for? If I really wanted to write a book, no one would be able to stop me. I have to walk the whole way. This is madness! I get drunk several nights running, with her beside me getting equally drunk — even though she hates drinking. And the more aware I am of this, the more aggressive I become. She accepts my aggression without complaint; she merely reminds me that the departure date is getting closer.
One night, shortly before that date, she refuses to make love. I smoke a whole joint of marijuana, drink two bottles of wine, and pass out in the middle of the living room. When I come to, I realize that I have reached the bottom of the pit, and now all that remains is for me to clamber back up to the top. And I, who so pride myself on my courage, see how cowardly, mean, and unadventurous I am being with my own life. I set off, and for thirty-eight days I follow the road to Santiago.
When I arrive, I understand that my real journey only starts there. I fall in love with a Catalan scientist, with an Argentine woman who makes jewelry, and with a young woman who sings in the metro.
The royalties from my lyrics keep rolling in and are enough for me to live comfortably without having to work and with plenty of time to do everything — even write a book.
She has booked her ticket for the following week, which gives me just enough time to organize a series of excuses. I tidy the apartment, expunge any trace of a female presence, and ask my friends not to breathe a word, because my wife is coming to stay for a month. Esther gets off the plane sporting a hideous, unrecognizable haircut. We go to bullfights, flamenco shows, and I am the best husband in the world, because I want her to go home feeling that I still love her.
I complain about her haircut and she changes it and is pretty again. There are only ten days left of her holiday and I want her to go home feeling happy and to leave me alone to enjoy this Madrid that is killing me, the discotheques that open at ten in the morning, the bullfights, the endless conversations about the same old topics, the alcohol, the women, more bullfights, more alcohol, more women, and absolutely no timetable.
One Sunday, while we are walking to a bar that serves food all night, she brings up the forbidden topic: I drink a whole bottle of sherry, kick any metal doors we pass on the way back, verbally abuse other people in the street, ask why she bothered traveling all this way if her one aim was to make my life a hell and destroy my happiness.
She says nothing, but we both know that our relationship has reached its limits. And suddenly, the miracle happens. I look across at the woman who has just made some coffee and is now reading the newspaper, whose eyes look tired and desperate, who is her usual silent self, who does not always show her affection in gestures, the woman who made me say yes when I wanted to say no, who forced me to fight for what she, quite rightly, believed was my reason for living, who let me set off alone because her love for me was greater even than her love for herself, who made me go in search of my dream; and, suddenly, seeing that small, quiet woman, whose eyes said more than any words, who was often terrified inside, but always courageous in her actions, who could love someone without humbling herself and who never ever apologized for fighting for her man — suddenly, my fingers press down on the keys.
The first sentence emerges. Then the second. I start by describing the experience that has affected me most profoundly in those last few years — the road to Santiago.
As I write, I realize that the way I see the world is going through a series of major changes. For many years, I studied and practiced magic, alchemy, and the occult; I was fascinated by the idea of a small group of people being in possession of an immense power that could in no way be shared with the rest of humanity, because it would be far too dangerous to allow such vast potential to fall into inexperienced hands. I was a member of secret societies, I became involved in exotic sects, I bought obscure, extremely expensive books, spent an enormous amount of time performing rituals and invocations.
I was always joining and leaving different groups and fraternities, always thinking that I had finally met the person who could reveal to me the mysteries of the invisible world, but in the end I was always disappointed to discover that most of these people, however well-intentioned, were merely following this or that dogma and tended to be fanatics, because fanaticism is the only way to put an end to the doubts that constantly trouble the human soul.
I discovered that many of the rituals did actually work, but I discovered, too, that those who declared themselves to be the masters and holders of the secrets of life, who claimed to know techniques that gave them the ability to achieve their every desire, had completely lost touch with the teachings of the ancients. In my book about the road to Santiago, I discuss other possible ways of growing and end with this thought: All you have to do is to pay attention; lessons always arrive when you are ready, and if you can read the signs, you will learn everything you need to know in order to take the next step.
We humans have two great problems: A week later, I have finished the first, second, and third draft. Madrid is no longer killing me, it is time to go back home. I feel that one cycle has ended and that I urgently need to begin another. I say goodbye to the city as I have always said goodbye in life: Four months later, when I am busy on my tenth draft, I discover that both the typescript and Esther have gone.
The ex -boyfriend publishes the book. There is not a word about it in the press, but a few people buy it. They recommend it to other people, who also buy it and recommend it to others. Six months later, the first edition has sold out. A year later, there have been three more print runs and I am beginning to earn money from the one thing I never dreamed I would — from literature.
And I see that this success opens the door I have so long wanted to open: Will I have to endure the same rigmarole of sitting down in front of the typewriter and then finding myself doing everything but writing sentences and paragraphs? Then, one evening, I happen upon happen upon? I use that story as the basis for another story about a shepherd who goes in search of his dream, a treasure hidden in the pyramids of Egypt.
I speak of the love that lies waiting for him there, as Esther had waited for me while I walked around and around in circles. I am no longer someone dreaming of becoming something: I am the shepherd crossing the desert, but where is the alchemist who helps him to carry on? Nevertheless, the publisher accepts it, the book is published, and my readers once again take it into the bestseller lists.
Three years later, my marriage is in excellent shape; I am doing what I always wanted to do; the first translation appears, then the second, and success — slowly but surely — takes my work to the four comers of the earth.
I decide to move to Paris because of its cafes, its writers, and its cultural life. I discover that none of this exists anymore: Most of the writers there are more concerned with style than content; they strive to be original, but succeed only in being dull.
They are locked in their own little world, and I learn an interesting French expression: The Internet and its simple language are all that it takes to change the world.
A parallel world emerges in Paris: I join these new writers in cafes that no one has heard of, because neither the writers nor the cafes are as yet famous. I develop my style alone and I learn from a publisher all I need to know about mutual support. Everyone knows. What favors could I do for anyone? Let me give you an example: I know this because, like you, I too was once ambitious, independent, honest. You know that you owe me something, but I never ask you for anything.
The Favor Bank is a risky investment, just like any other bank. At a certain point, your life will begin to decline, you got halfway, but not all the way, you are half-happy and half-sad, neither frustrated nor fulfilled. I learn, I suffer, my books are translated into French, and, in the tradition of that country, the stranger is welcomed.
Not only that, the stranger is an enormous success! I always repay promptly any deposits made and soon I too am a lender — of contacts.
My influence grows. I leam to ask for favors and to do the favors others ask of me. Esther gets permission to work as a journalist in France. Apart from the normal conflicts in any marriage, I am contented. I understand for the first time that all the frustrations I felt about previous love affairs and marriages had nothing to do with the women involved, but with my own bitterness.
Esther, however, was the only woman who understood one very simple thing: We have been together for eight years; I believe she is the love of my life, and although I do occasionally or, to be honest, frequently fall in love with other women who cross my path, I never consider the possibility of divorce. I never ask her if she knows about my extramarital affairs. She never makes any comment on the subject. That is why I am astonished when, as we are leaving a cinema, she tells me that she has asked her magazine if she can file a report on a civil war in Africa.
You earn good money — not that you need that money to live on. You have all the contacts you need in the Favor Bank. I mean, what is fidelity? Are you listening? I was just thinking.
So, according to you, no one is happy? Others make plans: Are you happy? Very few people actually say to me: And, of course, one day your work will end too. What will you do when that happens? There is no answer. They change the subject. I have the woman I love, the career I always dreamed of having, the kind of freedom that is the envy of all my friends, the travel, the honors, the praise.
The elegant woman who just passed us spends her days trying to hold back time, always checking the scales, because she thinks that is what love depends on. Look across the street: And in trying to distract themselves, they try as well to find a way of getting free of those tragedies, of protecting themselves from the world.
Why are we smiling when we loathe each other? Just suppose that Hitler had won the war, wiped out all the Jews and convinced his people that there really was such a thing as a master race.
The history books start to be changed, and, a hundred years later, his successors manage to wipe out all the Indians. Three hundred years later and the Blacks have been eliminated too. It takes five hundred years, but, finally, the all-powerful war machine succeeds in erasing all Asians from the face of the earth as well.
At one point, Hans looks at Fritz and asks: They finish their beer, talk about other things and forget the question entirely.
Can you see yourself worshipping a guillotine, a scaffold, or an electric chair? And yet, nowadays people wear it around their neck, hang it on their bedroom wall, and have come to identify it as a religious symbol, forgetting that they are looking at an instrument of torture.
Then a bishop decided that these solstice festivals were a threat to the faith and that was that! Now we have masses, Nativity scenes, presents, sermons, plastic babies in wooden mangers, and the cast-iron conviction that Christ was born on that very day! Do you know where that comes from? Once a year, the Germanic tribes would place presents around an oak tree for the children to find. They thought this would bring joy to the pagan deity.
People do their best not to remember and not to accept the immense magical potential they possess, because that would upset their neat little universes. I have fun, I love you, I adore my work. Yet now and then, I feel this profound sadness, occasionally mingled with feelings of guilt or fear; the feeling passes, but always comes back later on, and then passes off again. Anyone living like that must act differently. Was it then, coming out of the cinema, that it all began? Should I have let her go off in search of that garbled story or should I have put my foot down and told her to forget the whole idea because she was my wife and I needed her with me, needed her support?
At the time, I knew, as I know now, that I had no option but to accept what she wanted. If I had said: And what was wrong with that?
I accepted, not without first making it clear that this constituted a very large withdrawal from the Favor Bank which, when I think about it now, seems a ludicrous thing to say. For two years, Esther followed various conflicts at close quarters, changing continents more often than she changed her shoes. Our relationship, which I thought had reached its ideal point when we moved to Paris, was getting better and better. As I understand it, she first met Mikhail when she needed a translator to accompany her to some country in Central Asia.
At first, she talked about him with great enthusiasm — he was a very sensitive person, someone who saw the world as it really was and not as we had been told it should be. I certainly failed to notice that Mikhail gradually disappeared from our conversations, then vanished completely. I thought she must be having an affair. I agonized for a whole week and asked myself: I should have been suspicious of that silence, that lack of information.
When she occasionally asked if I was interested in her work, my answer was always the same: But because people always believe what they want to believe, Esther seemed satisfied with my response. The words spoken by the inspector when I was released from the police cell come back to me again: Is it feeling alone and having no one with whom to share your innermost feelings, because the person you married is entirely focused on his own work, on his important, magnificent, difficult career?
I look at the Eiffel Tower: I have no idea how often this has happened since I have been at the window. Or, worse still, as a man abandoned. A year later, I wake thinking about the story by Jorge Luis 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. Immediately after leaving prison, I appeared on the covers of various scandal sheets: They allowed a week to pass; they checked to see if the sales had been good they had, because I was the kind of writer who was normally above suspicion, and everyone wanted to find out how it was possible for a man who writes about spirituality to have such a dark side.
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Then they returned to the attack, alleging that my wife had run away because of my many extramarital affairs: The singer said that there was nothing between us so why put a photo of us on the cover? The scandal over the famous writer did not last long; in Europe, and especially in France, infidelity is not only accepted, it is even secretly admired.
And no one likes to read about the sort of thing that could so easily happen to them. The topic disappeared from the front covers, but the hypotheses continued: I remember that I did, in fact, have an argument with Esther in a restaurant about her views on a South American writer, which were completely opposed to mine. A British tabloid alleged — and luckily this had no serious repercussions — that my wife had gone into hiding with an Islamist terrorist organization.
This world is so full of betrayals, divorces, murders, and assassination attempts that a month later the subject had been forgotten by the ordinary public. As an American artist almost said: Sensationalism was only made to last fifteen minutes. My main concern was quite different: Or should I say memories of my ex-wife I needed to get used to the term.
Part of what I had foreseen in that hotel room did come to pass. For a while, I barely left the apartment: Depending on my mood, Esther was either a saint who deserved better or a treacherous, perfidious woman who had embroiled me in such a complicated situation that I had even been thought a criminal.
Friends, acquaintances, publishers, people I sat next to at the many gala dinners I was obliged to attend, listened with some curiosity at first. Gradually, though, I noticed that they tended to change the subject; they had been interested in the subject at some point, but it was no longer part of their current curiosities: One day, in Madrid, I noticed that the number of guests at events and suppers was beginning to fall off.
Although it may have been good for my soul to unburden myself of my feelings, to blame or to bless Esther, I began to realize that I was becoming something even worse than a betrayed husband: I was becoming the kind of boring person no one wants to be around. I decided, from then on, to suffer in silence, and the invitations once more flooded in through my mailbox. But the Zahir, about which I initially used to think with either irritation or affection, continued to grow in my soul.
I started looking for Esther in every woman I met. I would see her in every bar, every cinema, at bus stops. More than once I ordered a taxi driver to stop in the middle of the street or to follow someone, until I could persuade myself that the person was not the person I was looking for. With the Zahir beginning to occupy my every thought, I needed an antidote, something that would not take me to the brink of despair. There was only one possible solution: I encountered three or four women I felt drawn to, but then I met Marie, a thirty-five- year-old French actress.
She was the only one who did not spout such nonsense as: Celebrity is an aphrodisiac. We were often seen together at parties and receptions; there was speculation about our relationship, but neither she nor I confirmed or denied anything, and the matter was left hanging, and all that remained for the magazines was to wait for the photo of the famous kiss — which never came, because both she and I considered such public exhibitionism vulgar.
She got on with her filming and I with my work; when I could, I would travel to Milan, and when she could, she would meet me in Paris; we were close, but not dependent on each other. Marie pretended not to know what was going on in my soul, and I pretended not to know what was going on in hers an impossible love for a married neighbor, even though she could have had any man she wanted. We were friends, companions, we enjoyed the same things; I would even go so far as to say that there was between us a kind of love, but different from the love I felt for Esther or that Marie felt for her neighbor.
I started taking part in book signings again, I accepted invitations to give lectures, write articles, attend charity dinners, appear on television programs, help out with projects for up-and-coming young artists. I did everything except what I should have been doing, namely, writing a book. I had lived my dream intensely while it lasted, I had got further than most people are lucky enough to get, I could spend the rest of my life having fun.
I thought this every morning. In the afternoon, I realized that the only thing I really liked doing was writing. By nightfall, there I was once more trying to persuade myself that I had fulfilled my dream and should try something new. A special door to the cathedral in Santiago stands open for days, and, according to tradition, anyone who goes through that door receives a series of special blessings.
There were various commemorative events throughout Spain, and since I was extremely grateful for the pilgrimage I had made, I decided to take part in at least one event: Everywhere — even those places I have never visited before — reminds me of my private Zahir. I think how Esther would love to see this, how much she would enjoy eating in this restaurant or walking by this river. I spend the night in Bayonne and, before I go to sleep, I turn on the television and learn that there are about five thousand trucks stuck on the frontier between France and Spain, due to a violent and entirely unexpected snowstorm.
I wake up thinking that I should simply drive back to Paris: I have an excellent excuse for canceling the engagement, and the organizers will understand perfectly — the traffic is in chaos, there is ice on the roads, both the French and Spanish governments are advising people not to leave home this weekend because the risk of accidents is so high.
The situation is worse than it was last night: Instinctively, I decide to go ahead; something is forcing me on, out onto the icy asphalt and to the hours spent patiently waiting in bottlenecks. Perhaps it is the name of the city: Vitoria — Victory. Perhaps it is the feeling that I have grown too used to comfort and have lost my ability to improvise in crisis situations. Perhaps it is the enthusiasm of the people who are, at this moment, trying to restore a cathedral built many centuries ago and who, in order to draw attention to their efforts, have invited a few writers to give talks.
Or perhaps it is the old saying of the conquistadors of the Americas: After many long, tense hours, I reach Vitoria, where some even tenser people are waiting for me.
A young woman with shining eyes starts telling me the story. To begin with there was the city wall. The wall remained, but one part of it was used to build a chapel. Many years passed, and the chapel became a church. Another century passed, and the church became a Gothic cathedral. The cathedral had had its moments of glory, there had been structural problems, for a time it had been abandoned, then restoration work had distorted the whole shape of the building, but each generation thought it had solved the problem and would rework the original plans.
Thus, in the centuries that followed, they raised a wall here, took down a beam there, added a buttress over there, created or bricked up stained-glass windows. And the cathedral withstood it all. I walk through the skeleton of the cathedral, studying the restoration work currently being carried out: Everywhere there are metal supports, scaffolding, grand theories about what to do next, and some criticism about what was done in the past.
And suddenly, in the middle of the central nave, I realize something very important: Yes, we are all cathedrals, there is no doubt about it; but what lies in the empty space of my inner cathedral? Esther, the Zahir. She fills everything. She is the only reason I am alive. I look around, I prepare myself for the talk I am to give, and I understand why I braved the snow, the traffic jams, and the ice on the roads: On the way back to Paris — in far more favorable weather conditions — I am in a kind of trance: I do not think, I merely concentrate on the traffic.
When I get home, I ask the maid not to let anyone in, and ask her if she can sleep over for the next few nights and make me breakfast, lunch, and supper. I stamp on the small apparatus that connects me to the Internet, destroying it completely.
I unplug the telephone. I put my cell phone in a box and send it to my publisher, saying that he should only give it back to me when I come around personally to pick it up. For a week, I walk by the Seine each morning, and when I get back, I lock myself in my study. As if I were listening to the voice of an angel, I write a book, or, rather, a letter, a long letter to the woman of my dreams, to the woman I love and will always love. I no longer wrestle with my wounded pride, I no longer look for Esther on every comer, in every bar and cinema, at every supper.
I no longer look for her in Marie or in the newspapers. On the contrary, I am pleased that she exists; she has shown me that I am capable of a love of which I myself knew nothing, and this leaves me in a state of grace.
I accept the Zahir, and will let it lead me into a state of either holiness or madness. A xTm. Time to Rend and a Time to Sew — the title is from a line in Ecclesiastes — was published at the end of April.
By the second week of May, it was already number one on the bestseller lists. The literary supplements, which have never been kind to me, redoubled their attacks. I cut out some of the key phrases and stuck them in a notebook along with reviews from previous years; they said basically the same thing, merely changing the title of the book: As always, these negative reviews only served to sell more of my books: The rights were immediately sold to all the countries where my books were usually published.
Marie, who read the typescript before I sent it to the publisher, showed herself to be the woman I had hoped she was: At the time, she was reading the teachings of a little-known mystic, whom she quoted in all our conversations. Absurd though it may seem, I discovered love. What I like about the book is the fact that, at no point, do you blame your ex- wife. The universe takes care of correcting our mistakes. They cheer us on and are pleased by our triumphs.
False friends only appear at difficult times, with their sad, supportive faces, when, in fact, our suffering is serving to console them for their miserable lives.
I hate that. You always work at home and I always work away. Would you like to change the subject now or shall we continue discussing it as a possibility? It took a lot of courage to write that book. Every now and again you must ask yourself: Why did she choose him? If I ask myself that, you must too. What was his name now?
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Are you superstitious? But what good does that do? All it does is feed a constant desire to feel sorry for yourself, because you were the victim of people stronger than you. Or else it makes you go to the other extreme and disguise yourself as an avenger ready to strike out at the people who hurt you.
Show some respect for your time on this earth, and know that God has always forgiven you and always will. How many of these people will have had the same experience I had with my wife? Very few. Perhaps one or two. Even so, most of them would identify with what was in my new book. Writing is one of the most solitary activities in the world.
Once every two years, I sit down in front of the computer, gaze out on the unknown sea of my soul, and see a few islands — ideas that have developed and which are ripe to be explored. Then I climb into my boat — called The Word — and set out for the nearest island. On the way, I meet strong currents, winds, and storms, but I keep rowing, exhausted, knowing that I have drifted away from my chosen course and that the island I was trying to reach is no longer on my horizon.
Then I must continue creating sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and go on writing until I die, and not allow myself to get caught in such traps as success or failure. Otherwise, what meaning does my life have? Being able to buy an old mill in the south of France and tending my garden? Withdrawing from the world in a calculated, mysterious way, in order to create a legend that will deprive me of many pleasures?
I let myself be swept along by the current and finally anchor my boat at the island I was being carried toward. I notice that I go through the same process as I did when writing my first book: By the time I sit down at the table, the food is cold, I gobble it down and go back to the computer — I am no longer in control of where I place my feet, the island is being revealed to me, I am being propelled along its paths, finding things I have never even thought or dreamed of.
I go to bed, spend another hour making notes of things to use in the next paragraph — notes which always prove completely useless, they serve only to empty my mind so that sleep can come. And the following day, the same thing happens — the walk, the conversations, lunch, a nap, the feelings of guilt, then irritation at myself for destroying the Internet connection, until I, at last, make myself sit down and write the first page. Now, though, I have to reach the final sentence — and I do. The obsessive redrafting and editing begins, and when I can no longer bear to reread the same words one more time, I send it to my publisher, where it is edited again, and then published.
And it is a constant source of surprise to me to discover that other people were also in search of that very island and that they find it in my book. One person tells another person about it, the mysterious chain grows, and what the writer thought of as a solitary exercise becomes a bridge, a boat, a means by which souls can travel and communicate.
From then on, I am no longer the man lost in the storm: I find myself through my readers, I understand what I wrote when I see that others understand it too, but never before. On a few rare occasions, like the one that is just about to happen, I manage to look those people in the eye and then I understand that my soul is not alone.
At the appointed time, I start signing books.
The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession
There is brief eye-to-eye contact and a feeling of solidarity, joy, and mutual respect. There are handshakes, a few letters, gifts, comments. Ninety minutes later, I ask for a ten-minute rest, no one complains, and my publisher as has become traditional at my book signings in France orders champagne to be served to everyone still in line.
I have tried to get this tradition adopted in other countries, but they always say that French champagne is too expensive and end up serving mineral water instead.
But that, too, shows respect for those still waiting. I return to the table. Two hours later, contrary to what anyone observing the event might think, I am not tired, but full of energy; I could carry on all night. The shop, however, has closed its doors and the queue is dwindling. There are forty people left inside, they become thirty, twenty, eleven, five, four, three, two I wanted to be the last because I have a message for you.
I glance to one side, at the publishers, salespeople, and booksellers, who are all talking enthusiastically; soon we will go out to eat and drink and share the excitement of the day and describe some of the strange things that happened while I was signing books.
I have never seen him before, but I know who he is. I take the book from him and write: I must not lose him — a word, a sentence, a sudden movement might cause him to leave and never come back.
In a fraction of a second, I understand that he and only he can save me from the blessing — or the curse — of the Zahir, because he is the only one who knows where to find it, and I will finally be able to ask the questions I have been repeating to myself for so long.
I have another engagement. Everyone is doing their best to please me: Then the driver will take you wherever you want to go. If you prefer, though, we can cancel our reservation and all go and have supper at the Armenian restaurant instead.
Marie links arms with Mikhail and heads for the exit. The bookseller still has a pile of books waiting to be signed for readers who could not come to the signing, but I promise that I will drop by the following day.
We cross the Champs-Elysees, the sun is setting behind the Arc de Triomphe, and, for some reason, I know that this is a sign, a good sign. As long as I can keep control of the situation. Why do I want to speak to him? The people from the publishing house keep talking to me and I respond automatically; no one notices that I am far away, struggling to understand why I have invited to supper someone whom I should, by rights, hate.
Do I want to find out where Esther is? Do I want to have my revenge on this young man, so lost, so insecure, and yet who was capable of luring away the person I love? Do I want to prove to myself that I am better, much better than he? Do I want to bribe him, seduce him, make him persuade my wife to come back? The only thing I have said up until now is: We arrive. Mikhail makes a point of sitting far away from me; perhaps he wants to avoid getting caught up in a conversation with me.
Laughter, champagne, vodka, and caviar — I glance at the menu and am horrified to see that the bookseller is spending about a thousand dollars on the entrees alone.
Then he is forgotten, and attention turns to me — was I happy with how things had gone, was the queue organized to my liking, had the security team been up to scratch? My heart is still pounding, but I present a calm front. I thank them for everything, for the efficient way in which the event was run.
Half an hour of conversation and a lot of vodka later, I can see that Mikhail is beginning to relax. My wife must still be in Paris! I must pretend to be friendly, try to win his confidence, the initial tensions have all disappeared. An hour passes. Mikhail looks at his watch and I can see that he is about to leave. I must do something — now. However difficult it might be to pretend that I feel perfectly at ease talking to someone who is my enemy, I must do something.
What do you do? And I let the people in the audience tell their stories too. My country is in Central Asia. It has barely fourteen million inhabitants in an area far larger than France with its population of sixty million. When the Communist regime abolished private ownership, the livestock were simply abandoned and Do you understand what that means? Nearly half the population of my country died of hunger between and After all, tragedies get in the way of celebrations, and one of the people present tries to change the subject.
Those tests changed what cannot be changed, and we will be paying the price for many generations to come. We even made an entire sea disappear. Those in charge of the Communist regime decided to divert two rivers, Amu Darya and Syr Darya, so that they could irrigate some cotton plantations.
They failed, but by then it was too late — the sea had ceased to exist, and the cultivated land became a desert. Nowadays, vast sandstorms scatter , tons of salt and dust every year. The little water that was left is polluted and is the source of all kinds of diseases.
It could be useful in one of my lectures. Mikhail went on, and his tone of voice was no longer technical, but tragic. It no longer exists, and yet the people there refuse to leave their houses and move somewhere else: For forty years, the plains were shaken by nuclear or thermonuclear bombs, a total of in Of those tests, 1 16 were carried out in the open, which amounts to a bomb twenty-five hundred times more powerful than the one that was dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.
As a result, thousands of people were contaminated by radioactivity and subsequently contracted lung cancer, while thousands of children were born with motor deficiencies, missing limbs, or mental problems. The other half are glad: Mikhail says goodbye to everyone with a nod of his head and gives me a hug, not because he feels a particular affection for me, but so that he can whisper: Why should I worry about a woman who left me?
It was because of her that I was questioned by the police, splashed all over the front pages of the scandal sheets; it was because of her that I spent all those painful days and nights, nearly lost all my friends and. Now I have a clue: Yes, of course, I love you. I love you very much. I believe that only by finding her and resolving the matter will your heart ever truly be mine. I was close enough to him to be able to see what a coward he was when it came to our relationship, how he could never commit himself to the thing he wanted with all his heart, but which he always felt was too dangerous to actually have.
The closer I was to my neighbor, the more I admired you: You not only decided to do that, you made your decision public. When I ceased to be who I am, I found myself. When I experienced humiliation and yet kept on walking, I understood that I was free to choose my destiny. All I know is that even though I can live without her, I would still like to see her again, to say what I never said when we were together: I love you more than I love myself.
If I could say that, then I could go on living, at peace with myself, because that love has redeemed me. It might not be possible, she might not want to see you, but you would, at least, have tried. But I have no choice.
For two years, I had unconsciously preferred to believe that she had been forced to leave, that she had been kidnapped or was being blackmailed by some terrorist group. Now that I knew she was alive and well that was what the young man had told me , why try to see her again? My ex-wife had the right to look for happiness, and I should respect her decision. This idea lasted a little more than four hours; later in the afternoon, I went to a church, lit a candle, and made another promise, this time a sacred, ritual promise: Marie was right.
I respected her decision to leave, but the very person who had helped me build my life had very nearly destroyed me. She had always been so brave. Why, this time, had she fled like a thief in the night, without looking her husband in the eye and explaining why? We were both old enough to act and face the consequences of our actions: In the next few days, I agreed to do interviews that I would never normally accept; I wrote various newspaper articles, practiced yoga and meditation, read a book about a Russian painter, another about a crime committed in Nepal, wrote prefaces for two books and recommendations for another four, something which publishers were always asking me to do, and which I usually refused.
There was still an awful lot of time to kill, so I decided to pay off a few debts at the Favor Bank — accepting supper invitations, giving brief talks at schools where the children of friends were studying, visiting a golf club, doing an improvised book signing at a bookshop on the Avenue de Suffren owned by a friend he put an advertisement in the window three days before and all of twenty people turned up.
The place has none of the charm of bars in St-Germain-des-Pres, no cups of coffee served with a small glass of water, no well-dressed, well-spoken people. Besides, the room is rarely used on Thursdays, and while people are waiting, they have a meal; in fact, I probably make more money on a Thursday than I do on any other night of the week.
The only thing that concerned me was that the actors might belong to a sect. As you probably know, the laws here are very strict. France, normally so liberal, was slightly paranoid about the subject.
As if those same people were able to make all kinds of other choices about school, university, toothpaste, cars, films, husbands, wives, lovers, but, when it came to matters of faith, were easily manipulated. They really are just actors.
Inside, standing impassive on the improvised stage, are two young men and two young women, all wearing full, white skirts, stiffly starched to make them stand out. As well as these four, there is an older man carrying a conga drum and a woman with a huge bronze cymbal covered in small, tinkling attachments; every time she inadvertently brushes against this instrument, it emits a sound like metallic rain. Mikhail is one of the young men, although he looks completely different from the person I met at the book signing: The audience sits down on the chairs scattered around the room.
Young men and women dressed in such a way that if you met them on the street, you would think they were into hard drugs. Middle-aged executives or civil servants with their wives. A few nine- or ten- year-old children, possibly brought by their parents.
A few older people, who must have made a great effort to get here, since the nearest metro station is five blocks away. They drink, smoke, talk loudly, as if the people on the stage did not exist. A sect? I glance anxiously about, thinking I can see Esther in all the women there, sometimes even when they bear no physical resemblance at all to my wife. I ask a well-dressed woman what this is all about. Perhaps I had better not pursue the subject, although the woman appears to be perfectly normal.
A gentleman sitting by my side looks at me and smiles: Does he know about the relationship between Mikhail and my wife — I must again correct myself — the relationship between one of the people on stage and my ex- wife? And I think: Twenty minutes later, by which time the air in the room is thick with cigarette smoke, we hear the sound of that cymbal. Miraculously, the conversations stop, the anarchic atmosphere seems to take on a religious aura; audience and stage are equally silent; the only sounds one can hear come from the restaurant next door.
Mikhail, who appears to be in a trance and is still gazing at some point in the distance, begins: His mate was a roe deer. The wild dog with his courage and strength, the doe with her gentleness, intuition, and elegance. Hunter and hunted meet and love each other. According to the laws of nature, one should destroy the other, but in love there is neither good nor evil, there is neither construction nor destruction, there is merely movement.
And love changes the laws of nature. Sensitive, capable of hunting because he has honed his instincts, but timid too. He does not use brute force, but strategy. Courageous, cautious, quick. He can change in a second from a state of complete relaxation to the tension he needs to pounce on his prey.
The two travel along together in their symbolic worlds, two impossibilities who have found each other, and because they overcome their own natures and their barriers, they make the world possible too. That is the Mongolian creation myth: In contradiction, love grows in strength.
In confrontation and transformation, love is preserved. And yet there is something missing, there is always something missing, and that is why we are gathered here tonight, so that we can help each other to think a little about the reason for our existence. Telling stories that make no sense, looking for facts that do not fit our usual way of perceiving reality, so that, perhaps in one or two generations, we can discover another way of living.
When we try to control it, it destroys us. When we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused. The strange cymbal sounded again. We are going to tell stories about the lack of love.
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