Tossed on a relentless sea of twaddle

August 28, 2005|By Craig Nova | Craig Nova,Special to the Sun

NOVEL

THE ZAHIR: A NOVEL OF OBSESSION

By Paulo Coelho. HarperCollins. 320 pages.

Well, dear reader, I am afraid we are in for some rough sledding in the twaddle department. Ostensibly, although dimly, this book purports to be about an internationally best-selling author of books on spiritual subjects. And just to prove how astute he is in these spiritual matters, his sales are mentioned many times. Many, many times. He is also happy to describe what it is like to be a writer. And while Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho's unnamed narrator makes the point of being a sort of Zen Warrior, he writes suspiciously like a raving egotist whose hemorrhoids are on fire. For instance, here is how he describes his, ah, writing technique.

"Once every two years," writes the narrator of The Zahir, "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. ... I must continue creating sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and to go on writing until I die, and not allow myself to get caught in such traps as success or failure ..."

No kidding. I'm not making this up.

Anyway, this Author / Word Sailor has a wife, a war correspondent, who mysteriously disappears. Of course, the internationally best-selling author immediately takes up with a beautiful film actress (nothing helps the spirit, where the rubber hits the road, like a good-looking actress). Still, he continues to think about his wife, and to find her, he starts going to an Armenian restaurant in Paris where some sort of hocus-pocus goes on. You know it's hocus-pocus, because at this restaurant people get up and tell stories. Here is one told by the man who, at this point, may or may not have abducted the internationally best-selling author's wife: "'With the passing of time, the wild dog comes to accept that his instinct, always focused on the struggle to survive, now serves a greater purpose: finding someone with whom he can rebuild the world.'

"He paused.

"'When we dance, we spin around that same Energy, which rises up to our Lady and returns to us imbued with all her strength, just as the water in rivers evaporates, is transformed into clouds, and returns in the form of rain. My story today is about the circle of love.'"

And so on. For 320 pages.

How about that "He paused?" Now that's what I call writin.'

The issue here is not so much what happens, but the sensibility of this book's author. There isn't much else. As a novel, The Zahir fails to have even the most slender story to tell, although it does contain some hard-hitting egotism, perfectly imbued with arrogance masquerading as spiritual enlightenment.

For instance, the following is fairly typical of the conversations people have in this book.

"If someone is capable of loving his partner without restrictions, unconditionally, then he is manifesting the love of God. If the love of God becomes manifest, he will love his neighbor. If he loves his neighbor, he will love himself. If he loves himself, then everything returns to its proper place. History changes ....

"Do you think we two could save the world?"

In a nutshell, no. I do not think you can save the world. Maybe it would be better to forget the whole can of worms.

There is one lesson that we can all take away from this book. We can be thankful, at least, for the keen demonstration of the special symbiosis between the silly and the pretentious, which has been so cunningly exploited by Mr. Coelho, who, at least in this book, has demonstrated that he never met a piece of twaddle he didn't like.

Craig Nova is a novelist. His latest novel, Cruisers, has just been published in paper by Vintage.

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