Paulo Coelho by Juan Arias

We are all pilgrims in search of the unknown. -- Paulo Coelho

Omens are an alphabet you develop to talk to the world's soul. -- Paulo Coelho

Yes, I am a magus, but so is everyone who knows how to read the hidden language of things in pursuit of their personal destiny. -- Paulo Coelho

Subtitled Confessions of a Pilgrim, Paulo Coelho by Juan Arias is the result of a series of interviews Juan Arias had with Paulo Coelho, the closest we get to a biography.

It is very rare for anyone to be able to interview Paulo Coelho, and it is an honour to be able to do so, or what Juan Arias calls a series of informal conversations.

These 'informal conversations' took place in the apartment belonging to Paulo Coelho in Rio de Janeiro overlooking Copacabana beach July 1998, during the middle of the World Cup in France. The conversation took place mainly during the day, but some took place at night.

Other people were invited along. Juan Arias describes one such occasion when three Spanish girls who he met on the flight to Rio, to their great surprise, were told who they were going to meet. Asked what they had been reading on the flight from Madrid to Rio, each had been reading a different book by Paulo Coelho. A lovely example of synchronicity. All the more appropriate therefore, that the first chapter deals with omens, what Paulo Coelho calls the alphabet you develop to talk to the soul of the world.

The books the three girls were reading on their flight from Madrid to Rio: Brida, The Fifth Mountain, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.

The girls just happened to mention that they would love to meet Paulo Coelho. The man they mention this to, Juan Arias, just happens to be on his way to meet Paulo Coelho!

For the three girls, three Spanish students on their way to Rio to meet their parents, it was a dream come true to meet Paulo Coelho.

At the end of Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim, we have a record of the conversations Paula and Ana Gomez and Maria Chamarro (the three Spanish students Juan Arias met on his flight from Madrid), had with Paulo Coelho.

When we have an example of synchronicity (as with the girls reading Paolo Coelho on their flight to Rio), we often have several more, as came out during these conversations. Paulo Coelho gave an example of reading a book by Henry Miller, then noticing others are reading the same book or you have something in common with the writer. The girls followed with examples of their own.

Juan Arias:

For example, if you see a person on a plane reading a certain book, you know you can speak to her.

Paula Gomez:

One time, I was on a train going to Zaragoza to see my family. I was travelling with my father and my grandmother and I sat beside a young girl who had Brida with her. The day before I'd been at the Madrid book fair and I'd been trying to decide whether to buy The Fifth Mountain or Brida and in the end, and I don't know why, I opted for The Fifth Mountain. When I sat down in the train, I looked at the girl who I'd never seen in my life and at her book and thought, 'Wow, what a coincidence, just yesterday I was looking at that exact book.' Eventually, I couldn't restrain myself and I told her and she said, 'I was wondering whether to buy The Fifth Mountain or Brida.' 'The Fifth Mountain? Look, I've got it here in my bag.' And she turned out to be the daughter of a friend of my aunt's who lives in Zaragoza. I started looking for the hidden camera, because it had to be a set up.

Juan Arias goes on to say that if you see a person reading a book you love, you feel able to speak to that person because you know you have something in common.

For me a sense of déja vu.

My introduction to Paulo Coelho, was speaking to a girl in a pub who was engrossed in reading The Zahir. I was curious as to what she was reading. We had a very interesting conversation about literature and music and films. [see Synchronicity and Paulo Coelho]

I had the same experience many months later. I had almost finished reading Snow, a very strange, surreal novel by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (a novel recommended to me by my lovely Russian friend Alissa who also likes Paulo Coelho), when I received a text from Alissa to tell me it was her favourite Pamuk novel. She also told me she was now reading A Thousand and One Nights. A day or so after I had finished Snow, I walked into a shop and picked up a copy of The Arabian Nights, selected tales from A Thousand and One Nights. A short while later, I was in a shop and got talking to a girl who was looking at a copy of The Witch of Portobello, trying to decide whether or not to buy it. I felt I could speak with her and did, saying it was a good book, and based upon my recommendations, she bought it. We then had a very long and interesting discussion about Paulo Coelho, his books and literature in general. She had been introduced to Paulo Coelho by her sister recommending that she read Eleven Minutes. A book she enjoyed. A book Alissa had recommended I read when she recommend that I read Snow.

I had another sense of déja vu when I came to complete these thoughts.

I had recently been reading By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. I got into conversation with a girl who was reading A Quiet Belief in Angels by R J Ellory. We got into conversation about our respective books. She had read what I was reading, I had recently written about angels. The examples of synchronicity given by the Spanish girls take place on the train to Zaragoza. A few days after our conversation, I'm speaking with a couple of Spanish girls. They are from Zaragoza. Pilar, the main character in By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is from Zaragoza! By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is what one of the girls was reading on their flight. Brida is what one of the other girls was reading. The day I wrote this paragraph, I looked in a bookshop, to see Brida, the book the Spanish girls had been discussing on their train journey to Zaragoza, has been published in England. A little later in the day, I log onto Paulo Coelho's blog for the first time in a few weeks, to learn Brida is to be published this month. [see Synchronicity and angels]

Paulo Coelho was at one time involved with black magic and he discusses this painful episode in his life. He got caught up in an evil web weaved by Aleister Crowley, an evil Victorian with a reputation during his lifetime as 'the wickedest man in the world'. No sooner had he dragged himself back from the edge of the abyss, than he was kidnapped and tortured by paramilitaries. A period he discusses in more detail in The Valkyries. He says there is a very narrow and subtle dividing line between black magic and white magic, which can be summed up as 'in black magic, you try to interfere in the destiny of others'.

That is the border, the limit, the abyss. You might go into a church, light a candle to Our Lady and say, 'I want to marry so-and-so.' In that case, what you are doing is black magic, even though you are in a Catholic church. Or you can go to a crossroads and leave food for demons and ask them to heal you, because you don't feel well. And that's white magic, because you're not trying to influence anyone else's destiny. The issue is interfering, or not, in the lives of others.

Paulo Coelho gives a lovely example of synchronicity. He was in a Miami bookshop giving a lecture on By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. He explained that he was Pilar as Gustave Flaubert was Madame Bovary. He then read an extract from By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. Part way through the reading, there was a loud noise as though something had fallen, but he carried on reading. When he had finished, it was learnt a book had fallen off the shelves. The book was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert!

The experience of many people when reading a good writer, the relationship they have with the writer, is that the writer is writing for them, the reader, this is especially so with Paulo Coelho and his readers.

Paula Gomez, one of the Spanish girls who was in conversation with Paulo Coelho, felt that when she picked up one of his books, it was as though he had written a letter to her.

Paulo Coelho likened it to drinking a glass of good wine, you are connected with the countryside it came from, the man who picked the grapes or being in touch with a collective consciousness, described in The Alchemist as the soul of the World.

In conversation with Juan Arias and others, Paulo Coelho talks of Copacabana beach, his loves, his women, confinement to a psychiatric hospital, kidnap and torture by paramilitaries, working as a record producer and songwriter, black magic and drugs, the desire to become a writer, the importance of omens and how to correctly interpret them, listening to and being ones inner self and not being forced to follow the social norms that are imposed on us, exploring our feminine side, the importance of dreams, destiny, the Tradition and meeting his Master J, writing and the relationship with and importance of readers, travelling the Road to Santiago, then the Road to Rome, or in other words life.

Good writers draw upon their experiences. It is his rich and varied life that makes Paulo Coelho an excellent writer.

Paulo Coelho has written two biographical books, The Pilgrimage and The Valkyries, the others are what he calls 'fictionalised experiences'. Conversations with Juan Arias are the closest we have to an authorised biography.

Essential reading for anyone who has read books by Paulo Coelho or his syndicated newspaper columns or his blog and wishes to know a little bit more about the man himself, or in my case, to see if what I had surmised from his writings came close to reality.

Juan Arias is a Spanish journalist working for El Pais. He first met Paulo Coelho in Madrid during the book launch of The Fifth Mountain.

A copy of Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim by Juan Arias has been registered as BookCrossing book. [see BCID 5777683]

BookCrossing books are released into the wild and their progress checked on the Internet via a unique BookCrossing ID (BCID).

Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2008 -- March 2008 rev 1