"I was still very bruised. I couldn't believe it was possible to love again. He didn't say much; he taught me to speak Russian and told me that in the steppes they use the word 'blue' to describe the sky even when it's gray, because they know that, above the clouds, the sky is always blue. He took me by the hand and helped me to go through those clouds. He taught me to love myself rather than to love him. He showed me that my heart was at the service of myself and of God, and not at the service of others.
"He said that my past would always go with me, but that the more I freed myself from facts and concentrated on emotions, the more I would come to realize that in the present there is always a space as vast as the steppes waiting to be filled up with more love and with more of life's joy.
"Finally, he explained to me that suffering occurs when we want other people to love us in the way we imagine we want to be loved, and not in the way that love should manifest itself-free and untrammeled, guiding us with its force and driving us on."
I looked up at her.
"And do you love him?""I did."
"Do you still love him?"
"What do you think? If I did love another man and was told that you were about to arrive, do you think I would still be here?"
"No, I don't. I think you've been waiting all morning for the door to open."
"Why ask silly questions, then?"
Out of insecurity, I thought. But it was wonderful that she had tried to find love again.
For a second, it was as if the world had fallen in on me.
"No. It was someone who stayed for a while and then left again."
I laughed, even though my heart was breaking.
"Well, I suppose there's not much else to do here in this one-horse town," I said.
"Hardly a one-horse town," she replied, laughing too.
"But perhaps it's time you came back to Paris. Your newspaper phoned me asking if I knew where to find you. They wanted you to report on a NATO patrol in Afghanistan, but you'll have to say no."
"Because you're pregnant! You don't want the baby being exposed to all the negative energy of a war, surely."
"The baby? You don't think a baby's going to stop me working, do you? Besides, why should you worry? You didn't do anything to contribute."
"Didn't contribute? It's thanks to me that you came here in the first place. Or doesn't that count?"
She took a piece of bloodstained cloth from the pocket of her white dress and gave it to me, her eyes full of tears.
"This is for you. I've missed our arguments."
And then, after a pause, she added: "Ask Mikhail to get another horse."
I placed my hands on her shoulders and blessed her just as I had been blessed.
I wrote The Zahir between January and June 2004, while I was making my own pilgrimage through this world. Parts of the book were written in Paris and St-Martin in France, in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, in Amsterdam, on a road in Belgium, in Almaty and on the Kazakhstan steppes.
I would like to thank my French publishers, Anne and Alain Carriere, who undertook to check all the information about French law mentioned in the book.
I first read about the Favor Bank in The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. The story that Esther tells about Fritz and Hans is based on a story in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The mystic quoted by Marie on the importance of remaining vigilant is Kenan Rifai. Most of what the "tribe" in Paris say was told to me by young people who belong to such groups.
Some of them post their ideas on the Internet, but it's impossible to pinpoint an author.
The lines that the main character learned as a child and remembers when he is in the hospital ("When the Unwanted Guest arrives...") are from the poem Consoada by the Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira. Some of Marie's remarks following the chapter when the main character goes to the station to meet the American actor are based on aconversation with the Swedish actress Agneta Sjodin. The concept of forgetting one's personal history, which is part of many initiation traditions, is clearly set out in Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda. The law of Jante was developed by the Danish writer Aksel Sandemose in his novel A Fugitive Crossing His Tracks.
Two people who do me the great honor of being my friends, Dmitry Voskoboynikov and Evgenia Dotsuk, made my visit to Kazakhstan possible.
In Almaty, I met Imangali Tasmagambetov, author of the book The Centaurs of the Great Steppe and an expert on Kazakh culture, who provided me with much important information about the political and cultural situation in Kazakhstan, both past and present. I would also like to thank the president of the Kazakhstan Republic, Nursultan Nazarbaev, for making me so welcome, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate him for putting a stop to nuclear tests in his country, even though all the necessary technology is there, and for deciding instead to destroy Kazakhstan's entire nuclear arsenal.
Lastly, I owe many of my magical experiences on the steppes to my three very patient companions: Kaisar Alimkulov, Dos (Dosbol Kasymov), an extremely talented painter, on whom I based the character of the same name who appears at the end of the book, and Marie Nimirovskaya, who, initially, was just my interpreter but soon became my friend.