On the road again—to spiritual and sexual fulfillment, as promised by the megabestselling Brazilian author of The Alchemist .
Coelho’s latest (not to be distinguished from any of its predecessors) is the “story” of a rich and famous author of inspirational fiction (to whom the critics are really mean) whose wife, a distinguished war correspondent, inexplicably disappears, presumably in the company of her young translator, who hails from the Mysterious East. The narrator broods for 200 or so pages, repeatedly re-summarizes his life and opinions, charms every woman he meets, debates the ethics of spousal appropriation when the translator (Mikhail) reappears, then—following countless pages of rhetorical foreplay—undertakes a healing pilgrimage to Mikhail’s territory (Kazakhstan). The wife he’s seeking, you see, has become his “Zahir”—in Islamic thought, “something which, once touched or seen, can never be forgotten, and which gradually so fills our thoughts that we are driven to madness.” (Like this book, perhaps?) Little happens en route, though upon arriving at a railway station the narrator perceives that “the tracks seemed to be saying something about my marriage, and about all marriages.” (Wait! Yes, I hear them. They’re saying “drivel, drivel, drivel.”) Abstractions, bromides and oversimplifications abound, as Coelho’s scarcely fictionalized narrator holds forth on freedom, love, the “Divine Energy” through which love flows and the enigma of self-realization (“Before I could find her, I must find myself”). Coelho’s plain prose does go down easily, and is no more a challenge to the intellect than Jell-o is to the esophagus. Costa dutifully renders Coelho’s pronouncements as blandness incarnate, politely declining to correct recurring syntactical barbarisms (e.g., “No one should ever ask themselves that”).
One final gem of wisdom: “It is always important to know when something has reached its end.” The Zahir ends on page 298. You’re welcome.