Paulo Coelho talks to Big Issue

Big Issue

Big Issue

Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho talks to Big Issue about his work.

Inspired by Paulo Coelho’s revolutionary strategy of distributing his work freely online, here is the transcript of an interview that appears in this week’s Big Issue magazine. If you see a Big Issue vendor, please consider purchasing a copy!

Interview: Steven MacKenzie

Aleph is currently a bestseller all over the world. Is the global success of your books proof that everyone shares the same fears and dreams, and people are not as different as we sometimes think?

Questions. I think people all over the world have the same questions. I would not say fears and dreams – probably also – but when I write a book I concentrate on my personal questions.

What I realise from reading tweets and comments from social communities is that although we don’t share the same answers – and we don’t – we share the same questions.

This is something that helps a lot. I don’t feel alone as a writer. Because you always ask yourself, ‘I’m writing this for myself, but does anyone else know what I’m talking about?’ And they do.

Having brought inspiration to so many, it might surprise some readers of Aleph to discover that you were undergoing your own crisis of faith.

Faith is not a straight line. It’s like if you climb a mountain. You have your ups and downs. Faith is at the end of the day an act of faith. I need faith to believe in God. Atheists also need faith to not believe in God. Like everybody else I have my moments of doubt.

Like The Alchemist, Aleph recounts a physical journey, which is ultimately a spiritual one. Why did you have to travel across a continent to discover something inside yourself?

In 2006 I was in my comfort zone; bestselling author all over the world, looking like I had no more challenges in life. And this is not good because life is a constant challenge. People tend to stay in the comfort zone because it is safe but if you don’t accept challenges you are dead!

Everyone is stuck in a routine and reluctant to leave their comfort zone. Nobody is really living …

Let’s not generalise Steven! Many people, but not everyone, otherwise I would not have any readers! It’s a tendency we have and we have to fight against it.

Some people aren’t fighting hard enough.

Yah true. We fear to change.

Do people read your books to help them fight?

My books can act as catalysts. They can provoke a reaction in a person that is already ready for change. I don’t think my readers are reading the books trying to learn how to change. You read a book at the right moment and then you see that you have already this volcano inside of you ready to explode and the book uncaps this volcano.

I would ask why you think your books become bestsellers, but do you know the reason?

There is no reason Steve! Reasons you give for deceits. You can give one thousand reasons to justify deceit but you can never explain success.

There is no relationship between a book that is satisfying for me and successful. All my books, and this I guarantee, I put the same enthusiasm and love. Having said that, you can imagine if I thought about half a billion people [reading my books] I would be paralysed. It’s natural that we try to please everybody so we cannot think about this.

You say in Aleph that ‘writing is, above all, about discovering myself’, so in which of your books have you discovered most about yourself?

All of them. But the turning point in my life was my first book, The Pilgrimage because I started to tell everybody I was a writer.

Do you think the way that Western society is constructed, with emphasis on material possessions, that we are programmed to never find fulfilment?

Everyone asks a lot of how, they don’t ask why. They want to know how to do this, how to do that, but we should ask more why should I do this, why should I do that. It has to with consumer society. How did you become rich? How did you become a bestseller? How did you become a journalist? Just change how to why it makes a lot of difference to life.

Is the world suffering an economic crisis because people are looking for the wrong things in life?

It’s the irresponsibility of politicians. You know, I know – we live in a big lie. Everybody knows but we close our eyes back to the comfort zone and one day it explodes and everybody is affected. Mostly poor people. I’m very pessimistic about this economic crisis. I don’t think it is over.

Your books contain a lot of omens and signs. Do these exist for everyone?

If you believe in God like I do, there is this intuitive language to God. But my language is not your language, my signs are not your signs. This is a very personal language.

You should believe in your intuition. Call it whatever you want, but you know when you are taking the right decision. If you believe in God, signs, or if you don’t believe in God, well, intuition, but normally you don’t look because it contradicts your logical world.

In Aleph, you also say that instead of fighting for God, we should fight against God.

Sometimes yes.

Can you elaborate?

Fighting for God we see now. Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism… They give their lives because the message is a powerful one: you are martyr. I’m a Catholic so I know what I’m talking about!

People start justifying their lives because they need raison d’etre – they need a reason to live. They are trying to convince themselves about their faith.

Fighting against God. It is everywhere in the New Testament, moments when the great prophets – even Jesus – fight against God. When He says, ‘God, why did you forsake me?’ on the cross.

Then you have this intense relationship with God that is not a relationship of submission. There are moments when my wife and I, or you and your friends, need to fight the good fight! Not fighting to destroy but fighting for our beliefs. And by fighting for this you learn a lot.

However, if you accept everything, if you do not ask why or how, you are not living, just obeying a set of rules. Like a lamb.

Your books are banned in some countries such as Iran. Why would they be considered dangerous?

Why they are dangerous? Ask them, ask them! Any idea may be dangerous, it depends on the culture that absorbs it. I don’t think my books are dangerous, I think that writing implies the revolution of the writer itself. So I don’t know why some books are banned here or there. I don’t ask questions. I have internet, don’t worry.

You don’t worry because you can publish your stories online?

Using the Iranian example, after Aleph was published my former publisher in the UK translated the book and I put it online because I knew they will not allow it to be published in Iran. You won’t believe me but we have had 317,000 downloads of this Farsi edition.

Aleph in Farsi

You lived through dictatorship, imprisonment and torture in Brazil during the 1970s, what advice would you have for those being oppressed in Iran or Syria, or other places we don’t know about? What got you through the experience?

You remember at the beginning of our conversation about losing our faith? So, I totally lost my faith. When I was released I thought, this cannot happen to me. This is not fair, this is not just, God does not love me. It took me seven years to get rid of this experience.

It is very difficult to give advice because when you are in jail and when you are tortured you don’t exist anymore. After you are released, the prison remains in your soul. In my case, there was only one thing that healed the experience. It was time.

But I see people leaving jail today and going back to the streets and I am so proud of these people. They are so brave, they are so courageous.

The only thing I can do is join organisations like Amnesty International, become a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations, or be on the board of the Doha Center of Media Freedom, and use my influence to avoid these situations. But honestly, give advice? I can’t because my reaction was – I’m not ashamed, I know what I’ve been through – but it was not the best reaction in that circumstance.

But would you be the man you are today without that experience? Was it an important part of your spiritual journey?

I doubt, Steven. Probably my period in the mental institution was very useful for me, but I don’t think you need to be arrested and tortured to arrive where you need to arrive. This is the only thing that I would gladly erase from my past.

I see friends from that time who never recovered from this. For every three people who succeeded in overcoming their ordeal, seven are broken for life. Nothing justifies being arrested simply because you have a different idea.

How important is your Brazilian identity to your writing?

I’m very proud of my country. Your roots count a lot. [Brazilians] don’t have this wall separating emotions from the physical reality so what some cultures would think is too abstract I’m not ashamed to write.

Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin are fans. Do you think your work has ever influenced them?

I don’t know. [Putin and I] had this photo session together. We talked for 15 minutes in front of the press and then he asked the press to leave and we spent two hours talking. Of course, I’m not going to tell you what we talked about.

Oh, secrets!?

It was a private conversation. And I thought, ‘He’s so busy [but] he’s talking to me here’. He was enjoying the conversation.

Madonna is quoted on the back of my edition of The Alchemist. Do people like her phone you up asking for advice?

No, never.

Have you met her?

I met Madonna in Cannes and I thanked her for her support but they don’t call me. I called Will Smith because every time he is interviewed he usually talks about my books. So I used Twitter and said, ‘If any of you has a possibility of finding Will Smith’s phone number please give me because I want to thank him’.

Was he happy to hear from you?

I hope he was happy. People often forget to say thank you. And I’m very thankful.

Forbes magazine named you last year as the second most influential Twitter user after Justin Bieber …

More influential than Lady Gaga and Barack Obama!

Not bad.

You don’t look for this. You may imagine when I read this I was very surprised. I’m really crossing my fingers for Justin Bieber to use his celebrity to do something. He is very young but I hope he can use his influence to do something good.

You update your blog and Twitter very regularly, do you feel like you owe your readers something, or do you feel some responsibility towards them?

No, no. There are people who go there and agree. There are people who go there and disagree! I try to use my blog to share stories from different cultures.

At this present moment, all bridges are collapsing; economic, political, social. There is only one bridge still standing: the cultural bridge.

I may not understand your political system, I may not understand your religion but I understand your story. I understand your painting. I understand your music, your dancing. There you have this bridge. It is my responsibility as a writer to do my best not to allow this bridge to collapse.

Writing is not only limited to books. We have different platforms. Use your Twitter, use Facebook, use your blog, use whatever you can use but don’t forget this responsibility.

Interview with Paulo Coelho published in this week’s Big Issue.

For once an intelligent interview!

Shock doctrine: Play up the budget deficit, use it as an excuse to hit the poor, the elderly and other vulnerable sectors in society. Homelessness is rising.

Support your local Big Issue seller. Make this a sell-out issue.

Maybe it has already sold out. Just when you want one, not a single Big Issue seller to be found on the street today.

Independent booksellers currently have Aleph on offer at £5 off, ie one third off cover price. Support your local independent bookseller.

Good news Paulo Coelho fans in independent bookshops

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3 Responses to “Paulo Coelho talks to Big Issue”

  1. lainee street Says:


    Thank you, Thank You. Thank You! This interview is so inspiring. We would not have had the chance to read it without your loving effort. You are appreciated more than you realize.


  2. keithpp Says:

    Interview with INSP Patron Paulo Coelho republished in 10 countries

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