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Written by Ruchika Thukral
Stories form an inherent part of The Zahir. The narrator is himself a writer and his wife is a journalist who brings stories from others to all. Mikhail makes it his mission to get people to tell their stories by bringing them together. The characters allude to certain stories, fictional or mythological, at different points in time to make their point. The last three parts of the book each correspond to a story. However, most of these stories do not have a concrete resolution or moral. They are mentioned just for the allusions they make at a particular moment, where it’s easier for the person to explain their feelings via stories than by saying them out loud.
Since, the story is about love among couples, it discusses fidelity in a number of shades. The narrator and his wife have multiple flings with other people even while they are still married. The other person seems to be ignorant or chooses to ignore. This doesn’t affect their love for each other. For them, the pleasures of body and heart do not merge. This, however, doesn’t stop the narrator from getting jealous of Mikhail or Dos or from getting heartbroken that his wife is pregnant by another man. He believes fidelity ties a person to the relationship eventually killing either him or the relationship.
Love and Obsession
The word "zahir" literally means "obvious." In this context, it’s the obsession the narrator develops with his missing wife is what becomes obvious in his life. He speaks of being in love with different women, even while he is still married, but his feelings for Esther trumps everything. Since, he is already experienced abandonment by his previous wives, he decides not to mop over Esther once he realizes that she has left him. But, his love for her doesn’t diminish. He keeps on living his life, has an affair with another woman, but Esther continues to be an eternal shadow in his thoughts. The obsession grows to such an extent that he writes another book entirely on his feelings for her and after much self-assessment he is unable to let go of those feelings.
Dreams and Happiness
Another theme that occurs, slightly understated, is of dreams. The narrator dreams of becoming a writer, but keeps procrastinating. He has all the money in the world, lives in luxury and would rather not have to do anything at all, but he doesn’t realize his sadness until Esther has him write a book. It is only after that he realizes what he had been missing in his life. Esther too becomes a war-correspondent despite the dangers of the job, but finds a happiness in living life to the fullest when death is so much closer. Happiness is often questioned, and how people try to appear happy just because they can’t bear to come out of the illusion of happiness. It’s difficult for them to accept their miserable lives and so keep on doing an escapist charade.
Another major theme is spirituality. The narrator is not a religious person, but he believes in the mystics of life. He is able to realize his dream of becoming a writer only after he takes the pilgrimage on the road to Santiago, and it’s through another pilgrimage that he discovers himself as he looks for his wife in Kazakhstan. He often writes about spirituality in his books, but often says that he doesn’t understand most of it. He is a mere traveller who is still new to the path, but is keen on learning. There are multiple allusions to a little girl, or ‘our lady’ whom no one seems to associate with any religion. She is the voice that guides Mikhail.
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