cover image The Archer

The Archer

Paulo Coelho. Knopf, $21 (160p) ISBN 978-0-5933-1827-0

Coelho (The Alchemist) returns with the jaunty story of a master archer who dispenses philosophical advice. Using a fablelike framework, Coelho spools out short chapters that are interspersed with simple but evocative artwork. The story begins as a young boy leads a stranger to the local carpenter, Tetsuya, whom the stranger claims is a master archer in hiding. The stranger requests a competition to prove he is more skilled than Tetsuya, but when Tetsuya takes his turn, he aims for his target while balancing on a rickety bridge. Tetsuya’s lesson is that the stranger can not compete, because—though he performs well in ideal, controlled situations—he cannot be a master until he can also perform well under difficult, trying situations. After the stranger leaves, Tetsuya and the boy return to the carpentry shop, and Tetsuya holds forth with meditative gems meant to teach the boy the skill of archery as he himself had been taught, such as “never hold back from firing the arrow if all that paralyzes you is fear of making a mistake,” and “once the arrow has been shot, there is nothing more the archer can do, except follow its path to the target.” The narrative is simple, and the act of holding a bow and shooting an arrow is a fairly obvious metaphor for doing one’s best and striving for excellence. Despite this, fans of Coehlo’s koanlike narratives will find much to ponder. (Nov.)