In search of my island

When I wrote The Zahir, the main character says: writing is getting lost at sea. It’s discovering your own untold story and trying to share it with others. It’s realizing, when you show it to people you have never seen, what is in your own soul. In the book, a famous writer on spiritual matters, who believes he has everything, loses the thing that is most precious to him: love. I have always wondered what would happen to a man if he had no one to dream about, and now I am answering that question for myself.

When I used to read biographies of writers, I always thought that when they said: “The book writes itself, the writer is just the typist”, they were simply trying to make their profession seem more interesting. I know now that this is absolutely true, no one knows why the current took them to that particular island and not to the one they wanted to reach. Then the obsessive re-drafting and editing begins, and when I can no longer bear to re-read the same words one more time, I send it to my publisher, where it is edited again, and then published.

And it is a constant source of surprise to me to discover that other people were also in search of that very island and that they find it in my book. One person tells another person about it, the mysterious chain grows, and what the writer thought of as a solitary exercise becomes a bridge, a boat, a means by which souls can travel and communicate.

From then on, I am no longer the man lost in the storm: I find myself through my readers, I understand what I wrote when I see that others understand it too, but never before. On a few rare occasions, like the one that is about to take place, I manage to look those people in the eye and then I understand that my soul is not alone.

Once I heard an interviewer ask Paul McCartney: “Could you sum up the Beatles’ message in one sentence?” Tired of hearing the same question myself, I assumed McCartney would give some ironic response, after all, given the complexity of human beings, how can anyone possibly sum up a whole body of work in a few words?

But Paul said: “Yes, I can.” And he went on: “All you need is love. Do you want me to say more?”

No, said the interviewer, he didn’t. There was nothing more to be said. The Zahir could be summed up in the same way.

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