The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-05-08
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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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? The narrator doesn't have any answers, but he has plenty of questions of his own. Then one day Mikhail finds the narrator and promises to reunite him with his wife. In his attempt to recapture a lost love, the narrator discovers something unexpected about himself.


The Zahir
A Novel of Obsession

Chapter One

Her name is Esther; she is a war correspondent whohas just returned from Iraq because of the imminentinvasion of that country; she is thirty years old, married,without children. He is an unidentified male, betweentwenty-three and twenty-five years old, with dark, Mongolianfeatures. The two were last seen in a café on the Rue du FaubourgSt-Honoré.

The police were told that they had met before, although noone knew how often: Esther had always said that the man -- whoconcealed his true identity behind the name Mikhail -- was someonevery important, although she had never explained whether hewas important for her career as a journalist or for her as awoman.

The police began a formal investigation. Various theories wereput forward -- kidnapping, blackmail, a kidnapping that hadended in murder -- none of which were beyond the bounds of possibilitygiven that, in her search for information, her work brought her into frequent contact with people who had links with terrorist cells. They discovered that, in the weeks prior to her disappearance, regular sums of money had been withdrawn from her bank account: those in charge of the investigation felt that these could have been payments made for information. She hadtaken no change of clothes with her, but, oddly enough, her passportwas nowhere to be found.

He is a stranger, very young, with no police record, with noclue as to his identity.

She is Esther, thirty years old, the winner of two internationalprizes for journalism, and married.

My wife.

I immediately come under suspicion and am detained because Irefuse to say where I was on the day she disappeared.However, a prison officer has just opened the door of my cell,saying that I'm a free man.

And why am I a free man? Because nowadays, everyoneknows everything about everyone; you just have to ask and theinformation is there: where you've used your credit card, whereyou spend your time, whom you've slept with. In my case, it waseven easier: a woman, another journalist, a friend of my wife, anddivorced -- which is why she doesn't mind revealing that she sleptwith me -- came forward as a witness in my favor when she heardthat I had been detained. She provided concrete proof that I waswith her on the day and the night of Esther's disappearance.

I talk to the chief inspector, who returns my belongings andoffers his apologies, adding that my rapid detention was entirelywithin the law, and that I have no grounds on which to accuse orsue the state. I say that I haven't the slightest intention of doingeither of those things, that I am perfectly aware that we are allunder constant suspicion and under twenty-four-hour surveillance,even when we have committed no crime.

"You're free to go," he says, echoing the words of the prisonofficer.

I ask: Isn't it possible that something really has happened tomy wife? She had said to me once that -- understandably given her vast network of contacts in the terrorist underworld -- she occasionallygot the feeling she was being followed.

The inspector changes the subject. I insist, but he says nothing.

I ask if she would be able to travel on her passport, and hesays, of course, since she has committed no crime. Why shouldn'tshe leave and enter the country freely?

"So she may no longer be in France?"

"Do you think she left you because of that woman you'vebeen sleeping with?"

That's none of your business, I reply. The inspector pauses fora second and grows serious; he says that I was arrested as part ofroutine procedure, but that he is nevertheless very sorry about mywife's disappearance. He is married himself and although hedoesn't like my books (So he isn't as ignorant as he looks! Heknows who I am!), he can put himself in my shoes and imaginewhat I must be going through.

I ask him what I should do next. He gives me his card andasks me to get in touch if I hear anything. I've watched this scenein dozens of films, and I'm not convinced; inspectors alwaysknow more than they say they do.

He asks me if I have ever met the person who was with Estherthe last time she was seen alive. I say that I knew his code name,but didn't know him personally.

He asks if we have any domestic problems. I say that we'vebeen together for ten years and have the same problems mostmarried couples have -- nothing more.

He asks, delicately, if we have discussed divorce recently, or ifmy wife was considering leaving me. I tell him we have nevereven considered the possibility, and say again that "like all couples"we have our occasional disagreements.

Frequent or only occasional?

Occasional, I say.

He asks still more delicately if she suspected that I was havingan affair with her friend. I tell him that it was the first -- andlast -- time that her friend and I had slept together. It wasn't anaffair; it came about simply because we had nothing else to do. Ithad been a bit of a dull day, neither of us had any pressingengagements after lunch, and the game of seduction always addsa little zest to life, which is why we ended up in bed together.

"You go to bed with someone just because it's a bit of a dullday?"

I consider telling him that such matters hardly form part of hisinvestigations, but I need his help, or might need it later on. Thereis, after all, that invisible institution called the Favor Bank, whichI have always found so very useful . . .

The Zahir
A Novel of Obsession
. Copyright © by Paulo Coelho. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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