Paulo Coelho at 75 and how his home country Brazil treated him

Coelho's first books were inspired by his experiences on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Nothing could have predicted their subsequent success when they were released in the 1980s.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

Brazilian prose writer and poet Paulo Coelho is celebrating his 75th birthday on August 24, 2022. He published more than 20 books and became famous worldwide after he published the novel The Alchemist.

He was born in Rio de Janeiro on August 24, 1947, to a Catholic family but grew up opposed to religion. Even before entering school, Coelho dreamed of becoming a writer. But his parents did not support their son, so they insisted he joins the university’s law studies. Paulo disobeyed his elders, abandoned his studies and became a journalist. He also experimented with drugs and occultism as a student. The parents got angry and put him in a psychiatric clinic.

It is not that he had totally disobeyed his parents. He began studying law, but it never piqued his interest. The parents, however, did this not only for the sake of admonishing a naughty child. The fact is that in the 60s in Brazil, all forms of art were banned.

Coelho ended up in a mental hospital at 17 and spent three years there. He developed schizophrenia, but the treatment did not help, and the poet fled. For some time, he wandered and then returned home, after which he was again sent to the hospital. After that, he escaped from the psychiatric hospital twice more, but later the family came to terms with the path he had chosen, and Paulo became a writer.

After he escaped their mental hospital for the second time, he joined the amateur theatre movement, which was not only an art phenomenon but also a social protest. His activity ended with the fact that he was again in the hospital.

After leaving the hospital for the third time, Paulo engaged in writing and theatre. His relatives could only accept that he would never find a “normal” job.

In the early 70s, Coelho decided to create an “Alternative Society” that would operate outside the system and rules. The basic principle of this society sounded like “Do what you want – this is the whole law,” which the writer borrowed from Aleister Crowley. The Brazilian military considered this a subversive activity and sentenced Paulo to prison.

Paulo did not serve the prison for long, he was saved by a diagnosis made to him earlier in a psychiatric hospital. He was declared insane and released.

Literary ventures

As a student, Paulo became a hippie and began travelling. He visited Peru, Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, and North Africa. During this time, Coelho began to write lyrics for well-known songs. He has collaborated with artists from Brazil, such as Raul Seixas.

Paulo was subjected to electroshock therapy during his stay in a psychiatric facility. This experience influenced his novel “Veronika Decides to Die.”

Paulo Coelho left his homeland in 1977 and moved to London with his wife for a year, where he tried unsuccessfully to establish himself as an author.

After returning to Brazil, he worked briefly as the director of the record label CBS in Brazil before deciding to focus on writing. Meanwhile, he had switched to Catholicism.

Coelho’s first books were inspired by his experiences on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Nothing could have predicted their subsequent success when they were released in the 1980s.

However, when “The Alchemist” was published in Brazil in 1988, it launched the author to financial success. The story of Santiago, a young Andalusian who wants to travel the world as a shepherd, became the best-selling book in Brazil, appearing on bestseller lists in 18 countries simultaneously.

Paulo Coelho’s books, the world’s most successful contemporary Brazilian author, are not marketed as works by a Brazilian author as he managed to defy the stereotypes of homegrown Brazilian authors.

Coelho sets himself apart from other Brazilian authors. His books lack the tropical opulence of Jorge Amado’s renowned works and the urban violence of Paulo Lins’ bestseller, “City of God,” which was also adapted into a film.

In the Western world, Coelho’s religious explorations, which ranged from mysticism to monotheism, were well received. Coelho rose to prominence as a literary spirituality guru. His recipe was simple and effective: instead of wasting time with linguistic pirouettes or psychological analyses, he provided the reader with well-written narratives combined with self-help advice.

Literary critics have frequently condemned his style as overly simplistic, but readers worldwide adore him for his simple words. Celebrities like Madonna and Nobel Prize winner for literature Kenzaburo Oe are among his fans.

Coelho introduced the parable genre into modern commercial literature. The parable has traditionally captivated readers because it is simple and easy to understand while remaining enigmatic. This was true of Jesus in the Bible and minstrels in the Middle Ages.

Coelho’s work operates on a wide range of levels as his books are not entirely self-help manuals but go beyond literature. Coelho’s works appear on bestseller lists and on the Brazilian Academy of Literature coffee tables.

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