His books figure on every possible bestsellers’ list, almost every year. His novel, The Alchemist, is believed to have ‘changed’ many a life. For Paulo Coelho, life is a pious passage to the unknown. He defines himself as a devout pilgrim. And his progress, so far, has been amazing. And in his novels, he only documents this progress at various stages.
I was first introduced to Coelho’s writing through Veronika Decides To Die which I picked up from my university library, during my senior secondary days, out of sheer curiosity. I would have liked to read The Alchemist first as this was the most-talked-about book, and remains so, even after sooooo many years. Veronika…triggered my interest in Coelho…And I have read almost every word he has written, even his syndicated columns.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview that I managed with the bestseller author for those who can never have enough of Coelho…
Your latest novel, Brida, treads a familiar territory: A female protagonist setting out on a quest for knowledge, following her desires to be a witch. Is this based on a true story?
To me, a witch is a woman that is capable of letting her intuition take hold of her actions, that communes with her environment, that isn’t afraid of facing challenges. In Brida, I plunge into the life of a woman who dives into sorcery and experiments with different magical traditions. Through her life and character, I explore many themes that are dear to me, such as the Great Mother, pagan religions and the different perceptions of love. Real events, memories, longings, other stories — all fuse when I embark on a new story. All stories, characters bare the seal of my personality, but each has its own path.
After Maria (Eleven Minutes) and Athena (The Witch of Portobello), it’s now Brida, a young Irish girl interested in various aspects of magic. Do female protagonists fascinate you?
I only allow myself to write every two years because I feel that I’ve gathered enough emotional energy to come up with a story. I never know, before sitting at my desk, if I’m going to have a female or a male voice.
Is it important to know magic to find our true selves?
Every day is different and can have a magic moment, but we don’t see the opportunity.
In the context of your last novel, The Witch of Portobello, you stated that Athena was your feminine side. In this day and age, how important is to know our feminine sides, especially for creative artistes? You have also spoken about “empty spaces”. Are some inner spaces better left empty?
The problem is not about having empty spaces, but about admitting that they exist. Our society is so preoccupied about coherence that many get trapped in the misconception that all is explainable. Society tries to convince us that we have to be completely transparent, not only to the world but to ourselves. There is where the danger lies. It’s necessary to admit that some things can’t be grasped.
All your novels seem to be an attempt to blend and integrate philosophy, miracle and moral parable. Seeped with the notions of spirituality, human destiny, relationships and freedom, they also engage us for their underlining emphasis on “awakening of energy.” Is that deliberate?
I think that despite all the fanaticisms, we are seeing the beginning of an era where feminine values, such as generosity and tolerance, are surfacing again. This is what I mean when I talk of awareness and the new awakening of certain of my characters.
You have always been a non-conformist. What do you think of the man-made organisations?
In today’s society (as was the case in the past), there is a tremendous amount of energy spent on trying to make people conform: To established behaviour, to established religions, namely, to a certain type of thought. This uniformity is very tricky because it comes through a certain “political correctness” that stifles people’s spontaneity.
This should not make us despair though. These man-made organisations are made by individuals and I believe that change is possible as long as people dare to take risks and pay the price for their freedom.
How do you perceive the multiple identities in this increasingly shrinking world?
When you talk of a “shrinking world” you are highlighting the fact that communication is omnipresent, that people can interact virtually anywhere in the world and this gives us the feeling that borders are being erased, differences blurred. It’s true that these ever-increasing flows of communication have an impact on different cultures, but one cannot forget that this also fosters new type of culture. I believe that this new culture, based on communication tools, enables people to assume a wider variety of identities.
Your writing is enriched by your journeys across the globe. What places on the planet have fascinated you the most? How important to you is the need to belong? Where do you feel most at home?
I am first and foremost a pilgrim. When I say this, it is because, to me, all wanderings are important since you can extract from anything in life a teaching, something that will make sense to you. You have to look at life itself as a pilgrimage. We think: “Oh, this is boring. I’m just commuting to work.” But we are all on a pilgrimage, whether we like it or not and the target or goal, the real Santiago, is death. You must get as much as you can from the journey, because — in the end — the journey is all you have.
As a UN messenger of peace, how do you react to the news of violence from different parts of the world?
Recently, I was invited by the Unesco to write a text about the radicalisation of youths. I recognise the feeling of powerlessness that grips me when I start to think about the bleak future that lies ahead for many children across the globe. I think, though, that one has to be alert and see that the problems we face have a common root: Our selfishness and fears. To me, it seems that the only possible escape out of this cycle of violence is to act in our individual scale. In my case, to write is the best possible weapon against violence.
You always wanted to be a writer and made writing a vocation despite the initial odds. If you were to look back in time, what would you have made of yourself, if not a writer?
I’m living the dream I had in my youth but I never look upon this dream as something that has an end. As long as I’m able to live, think and love, the spark will continue.
Lastly, what do we look forward to from you next?
O Venceder Está Só (The Winner is Alone).