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The Zahir: A Novel of Obsessionby Paulo Coelho
Author Q & A
An Interview with Paulo Coelho
In your opinion, is the Zahir part of our universal experience as human beings?
If so, at which moment or stage of our lives are we likely to find the Zahir or realize that a particular person is our Zahir?
It doesn't have to be a person. It could be any obsession--work, religion, politics, lust for power, etc. We realize our Zahir from the moment that we lose interest in anything else but our obsession.
Can a person have more than one Zahir over the course of a lifetime?
The Zahir is normally a response to frustrations; so the answer is yes.
Does the Zahir guide us on the journey to fulfill our dreams, or is it the object of desire itself?
If you pursue your dreams as Santiago did in The Alchemist, you are enjoying each step. But if you are searching for the Zahir, not only you do not arrive there, but your life will be full of anxiety.
Why did you choose Kazakhstan as a central setting for The Zahir?
The absence of a formal religion: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism were all accepted, welcomed though not adopted. The Tengri tradition goes beyond all the formal rituals, and helps us to connect directly with Mother Earth, without an intermediary.
What inspired you most about the place--the geography, history, culture, or a combination of all three?
Culture and History.
Is it fair to conclude, based on The Zahir, that as a writer you found this region infused with unique spiritual qualities?
The region, not the country.
How is this place different from all the other places you've seen?
You see the vastness of the steppe, the dying traditions of the nomads (thanks to the mass murderer Stalin), but still a struggle to keep the flame alive.
When you think about Kazakhstan, or the entire region of former Soviet Central Asian republics, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
All of them are in the process of looking back (in the positive sense) to rescue their cultures, language.
Among the novels you've written, which do you think is the most obvious companion to The Zahir?
I believe that all my novels are quite different from each other.
Both the narrator of The Zahir and one of the main characters makes references to the idea of Warrior of the Light. Would it be accurate to say that to understand The Zahir fully or to grasp its multiple levels of meaning, the reader should read the entire body of your work?
No. There are references, but the book itself is independent of the other novels. There are references to other books of mine in all my work. For example, in The Fifth Mountain, Elijah gives to the boy a text called "Manual of the warrior of the light." And in all my books the word Santiago is mentioned. It is a cameo, not more than that.
How do characters in The Zahir compare to characters in your other novels? Should they be compared?
Who are some of your favorite writers?
William Blake, Henry Miller, Jorge Luis Borges, Jorge Amado.
How has your experience as a writer of international bestsellers changed your perception of literature and its place in our lives?
I believe more and more, based on conversations with readers, from the mail I receive, and from conferences, that literature is playing a major role today, even when compared with the role that music (rock) played in my generation (hippie). Today you can see an author as a superstar--I experienced this several times. I don't think it would have been possible ten years ago.
Do you think that in the Western world, in this age of celebrity worship, there is room for public intellectuals, and if so, how can they reach out to young people?
Oh yes. A writer, today, is a celebrity, and he/she must use this to the benefit of his/her time on this Earth. People are reading more because the most important media nowadays (internet) is a reading media.
In your opinion, can pop and high culture be reconciled through literature?
High culture is dead. Long live pop literature.
You've traveled all over the world, and it seems that location and its particular history always is always an important factor in your work. Is there a place in the world that you could return to again and again for inspiration?
The United States.
I believe that this country experienced a drastic change in the past four years, and the reaction from the government was not the most intelligent one. I do believe that one of the major tasks of intellectuals today is to fight against the feelings of anti-Americanism that are arising world-wide. This anti-Americanism is becoming very dangerous, and in all my conversations with American friends, either everyday or powerful people, we both stress the fact that this anti-Americanism can reach a point of no return. And in this case, the terrorist Bin Laden, and all the fundamentalists, will win the war against terror. So today we are confronted with the Taliban values versus American values. Because of naiveté (remember Che Guevara), jealousy, etc., people tend to side with those who are fighting against a major power. It may be too late when they realize that they are supporting oppression, dictatorship, and fundamentalism. And please take this very seriously: I live in France, I am from a South American country, I meet people from all over the world, and I see these changes. Recently I was talking to one of the bosses of MTV in the U.S. (you will see a commercial of mine, based on The Alchemist, sometime between February and April) and we both agree that the next step a responsible person must take is to single out the real American values, not the values that Bush is trying to impose (this is backfiring).
Is there a place you'd like to avoid? Again, if so, why?
Iceland. Not even Bjork leaves there. Too cold, no charm, nothing interesting.
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