Paulo Coelho was born on 24 August 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His mother and father, being devout followers of Catholicism, sent him to a strict Jesuit school and planned for him to enter into a respected profession. However, Coelho discovered early on that he had a passion for literature and writing and, when his parents’ attempts to discourage such artistic interests failed, his father had him repeatedly committed to a mental institution. There he was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy. He was seventeen.
Coelho attended law school until 1970, whereupon he gave up on his studies and left the country to embark on two years of traveling. He had already become a self-proclaimed ‘hippie’ when the peace and love movement swept across Brazil in 1968, and was soon to trace the footsteps of Carlos Castaneda in search of life’s spiritual meaning.
He would try his hand at many professions, including journalism, acting and writing lyrics, before finally dedicating his life to literature with the writing of The Pilgrimage in 1987.
The Alchemist was first published in 1988, just two years after Coelho embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage to San Tiago, which he wrote about in The Pilgrimage . Coelho described The Alchemist as a symbolic version of the experience recounted in The Pilgrimage .
The succinct style of the story and clarity with which The Alchemist is written reflects what Coelho learned on that journey: ‘I believe that it is part of the human condition to share beliefs in the best way and during my pilgrimage to Saint James, in 1986, I came to realize that the most fundamental teachings of life were to be found in the simplest of things.’
The Alchemist was initially published in Coelho’s native Portuguese. Although the first edition of the book sold less than 1,000 copies, Coelho pursued his dream and went on to become the best-selling Portuguese-language author of all time.
Sales figures for The Alchemist vary, and have reached as high as 90 million worldwide, with up to 65 translations in circulation. However, the true total hardly seems to matter. What is certain is that Coelho’s inspirational tale has touched the hearts of multitudes of readers across the globe, and he may just have fulfilled his promise to himself that ‘one day I would write about this experience, so young people will understand that we have to fight for our own dreams from a very early stage of our lives’.
Paulo Coelho has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the author with the most books in different translations. He has been a political prisoner, enjoys archery on a daily basis, and has an institute for children in Rio de Janeiro. He has been married to his fourth wife, Christina, for twenty-seven years.
The Times Interview, 12 April 2007
Kurdish Globe Interview, 5 December 2007 [see page 14]
Life in the Day of Paulo Coelho - The Sunday Times , 22 March 2009
Fan Club with photos and links to interviews