Coelho, Paulo 1947–
Coelho, Paulo 1947–
PERSONAL: Born August 24, 1947, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; son of Pedro (an engineer) and Lygia (a homemaker); married fourth wife, Christina Oiticica. Education: Attended law school. Religion: Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a journalist, a theater director, and a popular songwriter who wrote more than sixty songs with Raul Seixas prior to c. 1976; began association with Alternative Society in 1973; was imprisoned in 1974 for alleged subversive activities against the Brazilian Government, activities associated with the "Kring-ha" comic strips series he created with Raul Seixas; worked as a recording executive in late 1970s, first for Polygram, then CBS; Instituto Paulo Coelho (nonprofit organization assisting Brazilian underprivileged children and elderly), founder with wife Christina Oiticica, 1996; special advisor to UNESCO program "Spiritual Convergences and Intercultural Dialogues." Has appeared in documentaries and on television and radio programs across the world.
MEMBER: Bazilian Academy of Letters (ABL; elected, 2002–)
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Lectrices d'Elle, 1995, France; Golden Book, Yugoslavia, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2004; Knight of Arts and Letters (France), Flaiano International Award (Italy), and Super Grinzane Cavour Book Award (Italy), all 1996; Irish International IMPAC Literary Award finalist, 1997; Comendador de Ordem do Rio Branco (Brazil), 1998; Crystal Award, World Economic Forum, 1999; Golden Medal of Galicia, Spain, 1999; Chevalier de L'Ordre national de la Legion d'honneur (France), 2000; Crystal Mirror Award (Poland), 2000; XXIII Premio Internazionale Fregene, 2001; BAMBI, 2001, Germany; Club of Budapest Planetary Arts Award, and Best Fiction Corine Award, both 2002; Best Fiction, Corine International Award, 2002, and Nielsen Gold Book Award, 2004, both for The Alchemist; The Alchemist was voted 'one of the nation's 100 best-loved novels' by the British public as part of the BBC's The Big Read, 2003; Golden Bestseller Prize, Vecernje Novosti, 2004; Ex Libris Award, 2004, for Eleven Minutes; Order of St. Sophia, 2004, for contribution to revival of science and culture; Order of Honour of Ukraine, 2004; The Budapest Prize, 2005; Goldene Feder Award, 2005; DirectGroup International Author Award, 2005; Platin Book Award and Kiklop Literary Award, both 2006, both for The Zahir; I Premio Álava en el Corazón, 2006; Cruz do Mérito do Empreendedor Juscelino Kubitschek, 2006; Wilbur Award, presented by the Religion Communicators Council, 2006.
Arquivos do inferno, Shogun Editora e Arte (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1982.
(With Fernanda Ferreira) Os simbolos do tempo, Litexa Portugal (Lisbon, Portugal), 1985.
O diario de um mago, Editora Eco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1987, translated by Alan R. Clarke as The Diary of a Magus: The Road to Santiago, Harper-SanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1992, translated by Alan Clarke as The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom, 1995.
O alquimista, Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1988, translated by Alan R. Clarke as The Alchemist: A Fable about Following Your Dream, HarperSan-Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 1993, translation illustrated by French artist Moebius published as The Illustrated Alchemist: A Fable about Following Your Dream, HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1998.
Brida, Editora Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1990.
O Dom Supremo (The Gift), Editora Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1991.
As Valkirias, Editora Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1992, translation by Alan R. Clarke published as The Valkyries: An Encounter with Angels, Harper-SanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
Maktub, Editora Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1994.
O Monte Cinco, Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1996.
A orillas del río Piedra me senté y lloré, HarperSan-Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
La quinta montana, Editora Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1996, translation by Clifford E. Landers published as The Fifth Mountain, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Love Letters from a Prophet, Pergaminho (Portugal), 1997.
Manual do guerreiro da luz (collection of newspaper articles), Editora Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1997, translation by Margaret Jull Costa published as The Manual of the Warrior of Light, HarperCollins (London, England), 2002, and also as Warrior of the Light: A Manual, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 2003.
Paulo Coelho: Confissoes de um peregrino, Editora Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1999, translation by Anne McLean published as Paulo Coelho: The Confessions of a Pilgrim, Harper Collins (London, England), 2001.
Historias para pais, filhos e netos, Editora Globo (Sao Paulo, Spain), 2001, also published as Fathers, Sons, and Grandsons.
Onze minutos, Editora Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2003, translation by Margaret Jull Costa published as Eleven Minutes, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
A Bruxa de Portobello (title means "The Witch of Portobello"), 2006.
"AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY" TRILOGY
Na margem do rio Piedra eu sentei e chorei, Rocco (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1994, translation by Alan R. Clarke published as By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
Veronika decide morrer, Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1998, translation by Margaret Jull Costa published as Veronika Decides to Die, HarperCollins (New York City), 2000.
O demonio e a Srta. Prym, Editora Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2000, translation by Amanda Hopkinson and Nick Caistor published as The Devil and Miss Prym, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
And On the Seventh Day (novels: By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, Veronika Decides to Die, and The Devil and Miss Prym), HarperCollins (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2004.
Author, with Raul Seixas, of "Kring-ha," a series of comic strips, during 1970s. Column appears in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo and is syndicated worldwide; numerous other contributions to periodicals in various countries. Author of a series of 365 brief essays published online as daily messages on the following Internet portals: Ynet (Hebrew), RCS (Italian), UOL (Portuguese) and Terra (Spanish). Author of Ser como o rio que flui…. Author of newsletter, The Manual On-Line. Collaborated on the design of the electronic games "The Pilgrim," "The Legend," and "The Secrets of Alamut" (The Arxel Guild), adapted from his books. Contributor to Diáro da revolução, 1974: o dia 25 de abril (sound recording), Guilda da Musica (Portugal), 1974. Works have been translated into more than fifty-five languages in more than one hundred countries.
ADAPTATIONS: The Alchemist has been adapted and produced on all five continents in various theatrical forms, including musicals, dance theatre, puppets, dramatized readings, and opera; French composer Walter Taieb wrote The Alchemist's Symphony, released by BMG Classics; movie rights have been purchased by Warner Brothers; and it is expected to become a Broadway production; Eleven Minutes has been optioned for film by Italian producer Gianni Nunnari and Hollywood Gang Prods; Veronika Decides to Die has been optioned by Muse Productions. Other works, such as Veronika Decides to Die, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, and The Devil and Miss Prym have also been adapted for the stage. Coelho's works have been adapted for various products, such as diaries, calendars, journals, appointment books, art books and electronic games.
SIDELIGHTS: Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has penned several books that have been translated into English and numerous other languages. They include The Diary of a Magus: The Road to Santiago and The Valkyries: An Encounter with Angels. According to a reviewer writing in the Economist, Coelho's "stories are packed with proverbs, parables and advice (or 'sharings' as he prefers) that resemble entries in a New Age self-help manual: pursue your dreams, resist temptation, banish 'negative thoughts,' listen to your heart." The author's debut novel and perhaps most popular book, The Alchemist: A Fable about Following Your Dream "transformed Coelho … a self-described former hippie, into Brazil's best known literary export," remarked Time International contributor Julie K.L. Dam, noting that the "South American author of fables about soul-searching" shrugs off the title of guru, believing himself to be "merely addressing his own inner questions." Coelho's only motivation in creating The Alchemist, ac-cording to the author's declarations in a UNESCO Courier interview with Baghat Elnadi and Adel Rifaat, was "to write about what I firmly believe, which is that everybody needs to live out their personal legend."
Despite being a favorite of readers, Coelho often endures criticism from reviewers, who, as the Economist contributor noted, "denounce him as a charlatan, a bore, a seller of snake oil." Although critics recognize readers' interest in Coelho's writing, they often fault his text. For example, Ilene Cooper's assessment of By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept for Booklist claimed that despite the occasional interest, charm, and vibrancy of the story, "it is … occasionally muddled, especially in its theology, which is only vaguely explained." More positively in an Americas review, Barbara Mujica referred to By the River Piedra as "a sensitive, deeply moving [novel] … sure to become a classic." Mujica proclaimed: "Although some elements of the literary establishment may pooh-pooh Coelho's writing, calling it trendy and middle brow, the wide appeal of the author's earlier books demonstrates that he touches a chord in his reader."
While explaining his beliefs in the UNESCO Courier interview, Coelho stated that he "was raised by the Jesuits" and ended up leaving "the Catholic church precisely because it had been forced on [him]." "At those times [when we need collective adoration and prayer], we turn to religion. Religion is there to satisfy a desire to belong to the community, to find brothers and sisters. But," informed Coelho, "it does not show us the path to God." The author conceives spirituality, art, and science as overlapping entities, but warns that "certain things … [are] very dangerous to mix up." He added: "The experience of faith belongs to an order of reality that cannot be reduced to the world of concepts or be forced into a scientific mould." Earlier in the interview, Coelho explained his belief that "mystery is part of the human condition." The author also commented: "I do trust those who have sufficient humility to respect the mystery surrounding our lives and to acknowledge that there are major reasons that are beyond our understanding."
The Alchemist concerns the journey of a young Spanish shepherd to Egypt. As his odyssey progresses, the shepherd undergoes a spiritual transformation and receives sage advice from various old men, gypsies, desert people, and an alchemist he encounters along the way. Coelho used the short tale Thousand and One Nights to lead him when creating The Alchemist, as he explained in the UNESCO Courier interview: "I took four guiding ideas from it: the personal legend, the language of signs, the soul of the world, and the need to listen to one's heart." The author also noted: "The rest was vague, like being in a fog. The only thing I knew was that the boy would eventually return to his starting point."
The Alchemist did not receive widespread critical attention in the United States, although the novel did garner some favorable reviews. School Library Journal contributor Sabrina Fraunfelter commented that "this simple, yet eloquent parable celebrates the richness of the human spirit." A reviewer asserted in Publishers Weekly that The Alchemist "has the comic charm, dramatic tension and psychological intensity of a fairy tale." Booklist contributor Brad Hooper noted: "Beneath this novel's compelling story and the shimmering elegance with which it's told, lies a bedrock of wisdom about following one's heart."
Mixed reviews also followed Coelho's novel The Fifth Mountain. In a review in Publishers Weekly, a contributor called the book a "quiet retelling of the story of the biblical prophet Elijah," adding that work is "a passable approximation of the King James version" and warned that Coelho might have "'humanized' Elijah into puniness." Ray Olson reported in Booklist that Coelho "greatly expands upon the biblical account." According to Olson, in Coelho's "take on the prophet Elijah's time of exile with a widow," Elijah "becom[es] a respected citizen." "[N]either dull nor preachy," praised Library Journal contributor Ann H. Fisher, adding that the "smoothly" updated tale is propelled by "Elijah's introspective struggle with faith." Barbara Mujica wrote in Americas that "in this lovely retelling of an age-old story, Coelho captures Elijah's humanity and turns him into an Everyman. Like all of us, Elijah is an individual with a particular mission, a particular contribution to make, but it is only by questioning, grappling, and 'struggling with the angel' that he can come to terms with his destiny."
As a young man, Coelho was committed to mental hospitals on three occasions by his parents, who did not understand their son's wish to become an artist. In his novel Veronika Decides to Die, Coelho revisits his experiences and questions involuntary commitment. A writer for Kirkus Reviews described the novel as "a touching, if overexplicit, fable about learning to live in the face of death." His protagonist, Veronika, twenty-four and working in a library in Ljubljana, Slovenia, despairs over her inability to make changes in her life and the world. She overdoses on sleeping pills in a suicide attempt and finds herself in Villette, the infamous asylum for the insane, where she is told by Dr. Igor that she has weakened her heart and will die in a week. This prognosis is the jolt that gives her the will to live.
"Employing his trademark blend of religious and philosophical overtones," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Coelho focuses on his central question: why do people go on when life seems unfair and fate indifferent?" The reviewer added that Veronika Decides to Die "will appeal to readers who enjoy animated homilies about the worth of human existence." As Veronika meets other patients and becomes aware of their diagnoses and treatments, she questions the definitions of mental illness and the use of drugs to alter people who fall outside the usual descriptions of normal. Following the original publication of the book in Brazil, new laws were put in place to lessen the ease of involuntary commitment. In 1998, with book sales exceeding twenty-seven million in over one hundred countries, Coelho became the second best-selling author worldwide.
In his novel Eleven Minutes, Coelho tells the story of a Brazilian woman who at the age of nineteen goes to Sweden to find fame and fortune, only to eventually decide to become a prostitute, albeit one with a high-class clientele. Part of her decision is based on her growing belief that one person can only truly know or own another person during the act of sex, which typically takes about eleven minutes. In an interview on the HarperCollins Web site, the author explained the fundamental idea behind his novel this way: "We live in a world of standardised behaviour, standardised beauty, quality, intelligence, efficiency. We believe there is a standard for everything, and we believe, too, that if we stick to that standard we'll be safe. Because of this, we have created a kind of standardised sex, which, in fact, consists of nothing but a string of lies." The author went on to note: "As a direct consequence of this, millions of people have been left feeling frustrated, unhappy and guilty."
Writing in the Library Journal, Anne Berard compared the book to The Alchemist, noting that the primary characters in both books adhere to the idea of "the power of destiny and rely on their inner voices." In a review in Booklist, Whitney Scott called the book "a gripping exploration of the potentially sacred nature of sex within the context of love." Noting the novel's "down-to-earth dialogue and detail," a Kirkus Reviews contributor went on call the novel "one of Coelho's strongest."
Coelho again called upon his interest in the spiritual world of humans and reawakenings in The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession. The title word "Zahir" relates to the idea of obsession in Arabic. The story revolves around a writer whose wife has disappeared with someone who is most likely her lover. The writer's search to find out exactly what happened to his wife takes him from Paris to Kazakhstan but is in reality a journey of self-discovery as he learns that he really can never find his wife until he finds himself. Margaret Flanagan, writing in Booklist, noted that the author "continues to prove himself a contemporary fabulist, spinning irresistible stories while seeking enlightenment at the same time." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted: "Coelho's plain prose does go down easily." In a review in the Library Journal, Joy St. John wrote that the author "has written an enlightening story of faith and the reclamation of pure love."
The Devil and Miss Prym concludes the "And on the Seventh Day" trilogy, which includes By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and Veronika Decides to Die. According to the author: "Each of the three books is concerned with a week in the life of ordinary people, all of who find themselves suddenly confronted by love, death and power," as noted on the HarperCollins Web site. On the Web site, the author commented: "I think we are always asking ourselves questions such as Are we good or are we bad? How do we deal with these contradictions? The main idea behind the book was to show that although we have inner conflicts, we can overcome them. We can move towards a better way of living in the sense that it is much more intelligent, more practical to be good rather than evil."
The story in The Devil and Miss Prym begins with a stranger carrying eleven gold bars coming to the small and quiet town of Viscos. But the stranger, a former arms dealer named Carlos, has not come alone. Accompanied by the devil, Carlos tells the townspeople that all they need to do to claim the gold bars is to come up with a murdered person within a week. If they do, they all will be rich. Carlos confides much to Chantal Prym, an orphan and bartender, who is the only one who knows that Carlos is out to prove that people are essentially evil. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "quite a little Garden of Eden potboiler." Referring to the novel as "excellent" in a review in Booklist, Margaret Flanagan added that it is a "provocative morality tale."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Americas, October, 1998, Barbara Mujica, review of By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept, p. 60; November, 1999, Barbara Mujica, review of The Fifth Mountain, p. 61.
Americas Intelligence Wire, March 20, 2005, Jeffrey Gold, "Brazilian Best-Selling Author Paulo Coelho to Release Latest Novel."
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, September 7, 2005, "Paulo Coelho: A Global Writer Lives the Simple Life in France."
Booklist, May 1, 1993, Brad Hooper, review of The Alchemist: A Fable about Following Your Dream, p. 1547; September 1, 1995, Steve Schroeder, review of The Valkyries: An Encounter with Angels, p. 8; March 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, p. 1075; January 1, 1998, Ray Olson, review of The Fifth Mountain, p. 742; March 1, 2004, Whitney Scott, review of Eleven Minutes, p. 1100; July, 2005, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Zahir: A Novel of Obession, p. 1875; March 1, 2006, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Devil and Miss Prym, p. 43.
Bookseller, May 28, 2004, "Fiction Sales Not Lost in Translation," p. 15; November 12, 2004, "Paulo Coelho Ditches Carriere for Flammarion," p. 10; June 3, 2005, "Coelho: The Zahir," p. 10.
Economist, March 11, 1995, "Loved by Readers, Hated by Critics," p. 84.
Europe Intelligence Wire, March 30, 2005, "Paulo Coelho to be Guest of Honour at Book Fair in Budapest."
Hollywood Reporter, January 5, 2005, Liza Foreman, "Nunnari Sets Time Out for '11 Minutes,'" p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1996, review of By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept; January 15, 1998, review of The Fifth Mountain; February 15, 2004, review of Eleven Minutes, p. 144; June 1, 2005, "Q&A: Paulo Coelho," p. S4; June 1, 2005, review of The Zahir, pS3; June 15, 2005, review of The Zahir, p. 652.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Ann H. Fisher, review of The Fifth Mountain, p. 110; June 15, 2005, Anne Berard, review of Eleven Minutes, p. 119; August 1, 2005, Joy St. John, review of The Zahir, p. 66.
M2 Best Books, May 16, 2005, "Brazilian Author's Book Banned in Iran."
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1993, review of The Alchemist, p. 68; April 15, 1996, Martin Pedersen, "Brazilian Star Seeks U.S. Breakout," p. 28; April 22, 1996, review of By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, p. 58; January 26, 1998, review of The Fifth Mountain, p. 70; April 3, 2000, review of Veronika Decides to Die, p. 61; July 11, 2005, review of The Zahir, p. 59; February 27, 2006, review of The Devil and Miss Prym, p. 30.
School Library Journal, July, 1993, Sabrina Fraunfelter, review of The Alchemist, p. 110.
Time International, May 25, 1998, Julie K.L. Dam, review of The Fifth Mountain, p. 56.
Swiss News, August, 2005, review of The Zahir, p. 37.
Times Literary Supplement, October 8, 1999, Molly McGrann, review of Veronika Decides to Die, p. 23.
UNESCO Courier, March, 1998, Baghat Elnadi and Adel Rifaat, interview with author.
HarperCollins Web site, http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/ (April 27, 2006), profile of author and other information.
Paulo Coelho Home Page, http://www.paulocoelho.com (April 26, 2006).
Paulo Coelho Web log, http://www.paulocoelhoblog.com (October 10, 2006).
Sant Jordi Asociados Web site, http://www.santjordiasociados.com/ (October 10, 2006), author profile.
Warrior of the Light Web site, http://www.warriorofthelight.com/ (April 27, 2006).
[Sketch reviewed by agent, Eva Jimenez]