The Zahir (Paulo Coelho)

When I was 16, 17 years old, Paulo Coelho became one of my favourite writers because of The Alchemist. I was in Brazil on a school exchange programme and trying to find my way through and my place in life and spirituality. It was the perfect book for this. I still like it a lot. I also very much like Veronika Decides To Die which I read about the same time.

Now, it’s been a while since I read one of his books, so when I started The Zahir last week, I didn’t really remember how he writes but the feeling I got from the books I read before. Which was always a rather reassuring, the-world-is-good and everything’s-gonna-be-fine feeling.

As you might guess after this introduction, The Zahir didn’t leave me with this feeling. Instead I felt surprised, angry and absolutely flabbergasted because of his pretentious statements and the general “I am so humble although I know so much” [which isn’t true, in case you didn’t guess] crap. Seriously, about every third sentence provoked a heartfelt “BULLSHIT!” on my part. [For a woman, sex is not the most lustful part in a relationship, it’s feeding the man and children. Fanaticism comes from the doubts that live in men’s souls. etc. etc.]

But I can live with statements I don’t agree with [otherwise I would live in pretty lonely world], especially in books and movies. Under two conditions: It fits the character and the story and it’s not praised as universal truth (unless again it fits the character to proclaim it so). [Those rules also apply to statements I agree with.]
Both were not the case here, I’m afraid.

This book changed two things in my life:

  1. Paulo Coelho will go off my favourite writer’s list.
  2. I will never be able to read The Alchemist or Veronika Decides To Die again because I’m afraid that they were written in the same style and I haven’t noticed because of my age and general position in life when I read them.


By the way, there’s a movie coming up, based on Veronika Decides To Die with Sarah Michelle Gellar. Could be good. I don’t know. Maybe if they cut away the spirituality and concentrate on the story.

19 thoughts on “The Zahir (Paulo Coelho)

  1. I was never the Coelho kind of girl. You describe my feelings towards his writing exactly. “Deep” shallow truths, each sentence like made for a junior-high-poetry-book (or for a motivational poster with nice landscapes as a background) … not really an author I like (I didn’t read “Veronika”, though).
    I should do something else then blogging. I really should. Banking law calls for me. But I can’t hear it. The keypad is too loud. *dumdidaaah…dumdidaahdididada*

  2. I guess he hit me first in the right phase of my life but this phase is now gone.
    Usually the poster-truths are at least so non-commiting that you can read anything into them. But his sentences are very clear and defining and I just can’t agree.

    You will keep blogging until the banking law jumps on you from behind and hits you in the head. I know that feeling. Internal controlling usually does this to me.

  3. You know…I totally empathize with you. When I craved meaning, Coelho’s writings did provide me a (false) sense of comfort but if you come to thuink about it, he’s no different from all those new age ‘philosophers’ and gurus. The only difference is that he makes shit loads of money.

    So why do his books sell so well? Because there are people comforted by his delusional writings. I have a feeling he smokes some really good stuff during his writing sessions.

  4. I understand your youthful liking for Coelho, though. I was also very apt to understand/accept certain truths in literature which, when I look at them now, have not as much worth anymore. …. I felt so rich when I read the part of Boromir’s death in LoR (well, I am still very much into broad-shouldered men’s sacrifice). That was heroism as it should be :) Or I very much liked the protagonist of “La peste” when I was 17. Now I think he is pathetic and boring.

  5. @presti:
    I’d love to make as much money like PC with shitty books (I wouldn’t mind writing good books, though).
    I think his books sell so well because a lot of people don’t like to think for themselves. They want to have truth spoon-fed to them.

    Aww… Boromir’s death scene still does it for me every time. *sniff*
    But you exactly got what I meant. I was young, stupid and needed the money… uhm, the “enlightenement”.

  6. Hm.
    I’d like to say that this did not happen to me. That I read “The Zahir” and loved it as much as “The Alchemist” and “Veronica” and “By the River Piedra…”. But it’s not true. I hated it. It was pretentious and unbearably shallow. It also accomplished what not even “Eleven Minutes” managed to do – it put me off Coelho.

    However, I will never read those earlier books again – that way I can keep telling myself that he was an inspirational writer who lost his touch.

  7. I read “The fifth mountain” some years ago and couldn’t understand what the Coelho-hype was about because I hated this esoteric self-discovery-quest-crap… I thought then that maybe I picked the wrong book and should give Coelho another chance with “The alchemist” or “Veronika” but couldn’t get myself to do it. And now I’m quite glad I didn’t :)

  8. @abstrakt:
    Ja, ja, ich geb’s ja zu… :)

    again, I couldn’t agree more…

    I really liked both of the books when I read them. But I don’t think you’ve missed much not reading them. Not after The Zahir.

  9. i haven’t read the Zahir… i picked it up once and just didn’t buy it… 11 minutes has done what the Zahir has done for you… i didn’t feel any depth in it… but it made me curious to read venus in furs since it was mentioned couple of times… so that’s my next book.

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  11. I think that sex can be a very important part of a relationship. It can be strong to a woman too. It’s a deeper connection and meaning. When it is wasted it becomes nothing leaving you empty with sorrow. I think his books are amazing. To see the world in that point of view is strong and powerful.

  12. Ariel, I completely agree with you that sex is a very important part of a relationship. Mr. Coelho doesn’t believe it, apparently. At least, that’s what he says in the Zahir.

    If you like the books, good for you. I was very disappointed.

  13. I loved this book. I have to say, I put it down several times before I actually read it. I trust my instint with books and finding the right time to read them in my life. And when I read the Zahir, the timing was very right.

    I think many things PC brings up in the Zahir, are very painfully true, and can be very difficult for people to hear. Or they might fall on ears that are not ready to hear them. I have experiences very similar to the main characters of this book. And while PC may be highly criticized as a writer, his messages are quite poignant, and have resonated with me and in my life.

    I will always be grateful for his books.

    • I’m not saying that it’s a bad book – I didn’t like it and I couldn’t agree with it.

      But if you did, that’s just wonderful. I know that Coelho has the power to makes you feel good – he did for me at a certain time at least. And yes, timing is important, and I think that my time slot for Coelho passed.

  14. I have started reading the book but have to leave it inbetween.. because I was not getting what author wants to say how he wants to relate the story with Life……

    • I don’t think he wants the story to relate to life itself – I think he wants people to think that it relates to their lives. Which can happen, if you’re in the right place, or it can go really wrong, like in my case.

  15. .. right .. this man has done some magnificant work .. in Brida and the Alchemist .. but the truth is that these things were always present there .. but he collected it from there nad presented it beautifully in front of us .. that was the trick trhat aws so fruitful .. but the fact is that .. it is really good …. to know onece again the thinngs were are as old as truth annd non violence …

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