Layla’s Mixed Sorts

January 30, 2009

Quotes from “The Zahir”, by Paulo Coelho

Filed under: Books,Life — laylanajia @ 12:30 am

It has been perhaps 3 years ever since I’ve read a book for entertainment, though I have been ever since I was 10. But because I grew up in a family that constantly stresses on education and career, and due to the time I spend online, I suddenly stopped and switched to reading management books and business articles rather than stories.

Now that I remembered and realized what I’ve been missing out for the last couple of years, I returned to read, starting with ‘The Zahir’, by Paolo Coelho. I am categorizing this post not only under ‘books’, but also under ‘Life’, because that’s what novels are all about. They teach you inspiring lessons about life, and sometimes you have no idea what you will learn, you just free your mind and allow the book to choose for you, selecting random deep and stimulating lessons about history, love, and life.

‘The Zahir’, which means ‘The obvious’ in Arabic, tells of a bestselling novelist’s search for his missing wife, Esther, whom he loves so dearly and whom helped him become the celebrity he is. He is confused about the possible reasons of her disappearance and is devastated by the thought that perhaps she simply just chose to leave him, without a word of explanation. In order to search for her, he realizes he must first search and find his own self, and that’s what the story is all about: his journey in understanding his own self and the true meaning of life, freedom, and love.

I’m writing this post to highlight and share my favorite parts of the book, none of which will be revealing the story itself, but rather listing and quoting some lines and stories that I have enjoyed the most that were aroused through conversations between the characters, bringing up some historical events that occurred centuries ago, and talking about lessons learned in love and life:

“The Zahir, in Arabic, means visible, present, incapable of going unnoticed. It is someone or something which, once we have come into contact with them or it, gradually occupies our every thought, until we can think of nothing else. This can be considered either a state of holiness or madness”.

– During one conversation, the main character was asked how come he doesn’t plan to approach his wife if he could finally know her whereabouts, his answer was a metaphorical riddle: “Two Firemen go into a small forest to put out a small fire, afterwards when they emerge and go over to a stream, the face of one is all smeared with black, while the other mans face is completely clean. Question, who washes his face?” 

The answer is: the man whose face is completely clean. Because after they complete their task, they will both look at the other’s face and each will assume that his own is probably like the other. I.e: When he used to look at his wife’s face, he saw it clean and saw himself reflected in it, thus never realized he wasn’t working on his marriage and was absorbing her life and energy. He on the other hand, when his wife looked at him, she saw his face and felt ugly and diminished, in order to see her again, he should find him self, pure himself so his face can be as clean as hers.”

– Referring to a painful past: “I don’t regret the painful times; I bear my scars as if they were medals”. 

– While discussing the real definition of freedom: “Freedom is not the absence of commitments, it’s rather the freedom to choose and being able to commit to what is best for you”.

– When the main character was interviewed with questions about what he feels towards the critics who criticize his books, his answer was: “Ever heard about Jante’s 10 commandments? During 1933, in the small town of Jante, existed ten commandments that told people of Jante how they should behave, summing them up, they were the following: ‘You are nobody, never even dare to think that you know more than we do, you are of no importance, you can do nothing right, your work is in no significance, but as long as u never challenge us, you will live a happy life. Always take what we say seriously and never laugh at our opinions’.

“i.e if you’re a nobody, if your work has no significance and impact, it deserves to be praised, but if you are a success, then you’re defying the law and deserve to be punished.”

– During a conversation about sex: “Before all religions, Why was sex first forbidden, and when?

Why: because of food! When: Thousands of years ago, when tribes were constantly on the move, men could make love to as much woman as they wanted, and ofcourse, have children by them. Accordingly, the tribe would get larger, thus their need for food grew larger as well. In order to survive, they would kill first the children and then the woman, since they are the weakest. The tribe would end up with only men and no women, and without woman men cannot continue to perpetuate the species. Then someone, seeing what was happening in a neighboring tribe, decided to avoid the same thing happening in his. He invented a story according to which the gods forbade men to make love indiscriminately with any of the women in a tribe. They could only make love with one or, at most, two.”

 – Sometimes you hear someone use the expression “I want to find my Ariadne’s thread”, when referring to feeling lost and losing grip on life, wanting to find their way back in control of life. “Ariadne’ thread: a story of a Greek hero, Theseus, who goes into a labyrinth (a maze) in order to slay a monster. His beloved, Ariadne, gives him one end of a thread so he can unroll it as he goes and thus be able to find his way out again.”

– When conversing about love: “The idea that love is what leads to happiness is a modern invention dating from the end seventeenth century. Ever since then, people were taught to believe that love should last forever, and that marriage is the best way in which to exercise that love. In the past, there was less optimism about the longevity of passion. Romeo and Juliet isn’t a happy story, it’s a tragedy. In the last few decades, expectations about marriage as the road to personal fulfillment have grown considerable, as have disappointments and dissatisfaction.”

 – More about Love: “Love is untamed force, when we try to control it, it destroys us, when we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused.”

 – When talking about new beginnings: “…that is why it is so important to let certain things go. To release them. To cut loose. People need to understand that no one is playing with marked cards; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood. Complete the circle. Not out of bride, inability to arrogance, but simply because whatever it is no longer fits in your life. Close the door, change the record, clean the house, get rid of the dust. Stop being who you were and become who you are.”

 – Examples of famous epileptics: “ancient people believed that it was caused by demons invading a person’s body, then much more later they related them to some disfunction of the brain.”

 1) “During Feb 1431, Joan of Arc’s case was in hearing bells, the heroine of the 100 years war, who at the age of seventeen was made commander of the French troops because she heard voices that could tell her the best strategy for defeating the English. She was burned at the age of 19, accused of witchcraft.”

 2) “Sometimes people suspect that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in order to describe his own experiences of epilepsy. The story at the beginning of the book when Alice falls down a black hole, in an experience familiar to most epileptics. During her journey through Wonderland, Alice often sees things flying and she herself feels very light- another very precise description of the effects of an epileptic attack.”

 This about sums up the parts I enjoyed, if you’re still reading this post, and if you have read the book, please do comment and share your favorite parts, even if you haven’t read it, please do share your thoughts! 



  1. Dear Layla,

    thank you for the beautiful review.
    Caught your tweet a few moments ago.

    Much love

    Comment by Paulo Coelho — January 30, 2009 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  2. Layla , i have read this novel when it was first released..i cant recall my favorite quotes and paragraphs , but i would had included most of what you did here! 🙂 the firemen metaphor is just spectacular!

    thanks for the nice refresh 😉

    Comment by Ismael — February 2, 2009 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Ismael! The firemen metaphor was one of my favorites too. 🙂

      Comment by laylanajia — February 2, 2009 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  3. dear lyla, thanks for posting your favourite quotes or parts of the novel. i have read this novel few days ago. i am a student and i was asked by teacher to give review on this novel and i feel very lucky that my teacher suggested this book for me. Among your favourite parts i like the most the answer of the question ‘who will wash his face? marvellous and unforgetable answer! i pay salute to Paulo for his accomplishments.

    Comment by zia abbasi — January 19, 2011 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • Thanks Zia! Its an awesome book indeed! Am glad my post helped! Good Luck! :D:D

      Comment by laylanajia — January 19, 2011 @ 11:10 am | Reply

  4. I am reading the book these days. Its like finding the answers for my soul. deep and meaningful.

    Comment by merinith — December 26, 2011 @ 12:53 pm | Reply

  5. I haven’t finished the book yet but every single page makes me more eager to finish it as it somehow feels like it describes how you feel in your life its a piece of work and your choice of quotes couldn’t have been more perfect thank you ..

    Comment by menna — September 28, 2012 @ 10:59 am | Reply

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