Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Has Coelho revealed too much?

Paul Coelho is not an author I’ve read, or know anything about, but I'm aware of his fame and immense readership around the world. However, I have suddenly become intrigued by the man and his life. A new biography, O Mago (The Wizard), published in his home country of Brazil, is very revealing largely because Coelho allowed the biographer to read 200 volumes of personal diaries. Now, Coelho himself is wondering about the wisdom of revealing so much. On his own website, he has posted a blog asking his readers this question: ‘Should you know all about me?’

Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1947. He must have been an unruly teenager because, according to the new biography, his father put him in a mental institution where he was sedated and given electro-shock therapy. Later, after dropping out of law college, he travelled in Latin America, Europe and North Africa, and then, on returning to Brazil, wrote popular music lyrics. He was imprisoned in 1974 on allegations of subversive activities. Thereafter, he spent several more years working in the music industry.

Coelho published his first book in the early 1980s, but it didn’t sell well. In 1986, his spiritual quest, which had begun during his hippie travelling days, reached some kind of climax when he undertook the arduous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The Alchemist, his most famous book, was published two years later, in 1988. It is a symbolic story that urges people to follow their dreams. According to Wikipedia, Coelho has sold more than 100 million books in over 150 countries with his works being translated into 66 languages.

The publication of a revealing biography is thus likely to be of interest to many, including me (even though my own travelling was never motivated by any kind of spiritual quest). According to Marjorie Rodrigues, writing for Reuters, Fernando Morais, the author of O Mago, says it reveals the ‘wild, sometimes dark, past’ of Coelho, and has everything, ‘violence, sex, religion, rock and roll, Satanism’. These revelations come from over 200 diaries and 100 tapes compiled by Coelho earlier in his life and which were locked in a locked chest. 

Coelho planned, so the story goes, for the chest to be burned when he died. However, it seems, he offered Morais a key to unlock it if he could find the identity of the man who had tortured him (presumably in 1974) - and Morais did. Among the book’s many revelations is one about the young Coelho making a pact with the devil, and there are many others about his sex life, including homosexual affairs.

Coelho keeps up a dialogue with his readers through a website and blog. Yesterday (9 June), he posted this (in text and speaking to camera on video): ‘My biography, entitled The Wizard, has just been released in Brazil and given that I opened all my files to my biographer, some people have been horrified with my past. So here is my question to you: Should you know all about me?’ As I finish writing this, more than 80 fans have responded to the question so far, most very appreciative of Coelho’s honesty and openness. Here is one, from Jasrah, 'I will just say thanks for being on earth.'

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