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Paulo Coelho’s New Novel: “O Zahir”

Posted July. 16, 2005 03:05,   


A new novel, “O Zahir” by Paulo Coelho, the author of the worldwide best seller “Alquimiste,” has been published in Korean. Dong-A Ilbo examines the meaning of the book, which is getting mixed reviews, in new generation author, Kim Yeon-soo’s book review.

At the beginning of “O Zahir” there is a poem titled “Ithaca” by Constantine Cavafy. This poem has a phrase: “a man enriched by all you gained upon the way, and not expecting Ithaca to give you further wealth.” This phrase illustrates the subject of the novel. “O Zahir,” so to speak, is the 21st Century version of “Odysseus.”

Just as Odysseus sets out on a long journey to Ithaca where Penelope is waiting, the hero of the novel goes to Kazakhstan in search of his wife who suddenly disappeared. It’s no wonder that the hero, on his journey, comes to realize the meaning of true love.

From reading this part only, “O Zahir” may well sound like the modern version of a fable. According to Coelho, “Zahir” stems from an Islamic tradition, is visible, existent, and sensible, and refers to an object or person that makes us not concentrate on anything else once we contact it by slowly conquering the process of our thinking. In this novel, “Zahir” could be the hero’s missing wife, freedom, love, or the divine nature that dwells inside of us. The message it delivers is simple: “Stop trying to be the ‘you’ that you have been up to now. Be yourself.”

However, this message is not important just like the novel’s hero, a novelist, says in his novel. All novels don’t want to be compressed, and as much as Coelho is classified as a New Age novelist, this novel often has that kind of feel.

For instance, there are some sentences that read, “It’s only the present. The reason why people are always happy is because of that,” or, “If you want to change the world, you have to go back to when warriors talked to one another while seated around a bonfire.” These sentences remind me of books related to the New Age. From that point of view, like Coelho’s other novels, “O Zahir” could be labeled as a self-development book disguised as a literary book.

The novel incessantly deals with a number of issues important to modern people. Coelho raises the issue of the rationality of the system of marriage, the meaning of true love, and the correlation between money and happiness in his book. These issues apply to most people, so readers probably will relate to the questions raised by “O Zahir.” Yet, as an answer to the questions, Coelho, who actually visited the steppe of Kazakhstan, alludes to the living of nomads. He does this because anyone experiences a “situation in which everything in perfect order falls into a state of disorder, and a situation where things were once considered firm truths, are shaken,” in the steppe area.

Coelho is very good at questioning. However, he also answered very well this time. His concept of nomadism is remarkably charming and provocative. The book cites how Odysseus escaped from a crisis after being confronted with a one-eyed monster, Cyclops, and uses this to illustrate how nomadism could be the answer to all of the questions posed above. We are nobody. We are just who we are.

In the book, there is something of value for Korean readers. Try to find it.