I know that they say in order to write an interesting story, you have to live an interesting life. But holy crap. Paulo Coelho has a bizarre and turbulent life, it is as if Forrest Gump’s serendipitous tendency was combined with Jenny’s mischief and crazy experiments in life.
Was always ranked at the bottom of the class, he proceeded to have many different vocations after narrowly graduating from school. From creating and acting in theater plays, creating a famous cartoon strip, becoming an editor of a hippie and cult-related magazine, writing multiple best-selling songs, teaching theater, becoming a reporter at O Globo (the most respected newspaper in the country), to becoming a recording executive at 2 giants, and even becoming an expert Vampirologist, before he fulfilled a long awaited dream of becoming a writer.
But nothing was ever smooth sailing for young Paulo. He nearly died the very moment after he was born. And while suffering from many bouts of depression throughout his life, he almost committed suicide and was even admitted to insane asylum, 3 times, 2 of which he escaped (the 2nd of which made a spectacular story that ended him being written in a newspaper column in a town 2000 KM away).
Living at the heart of 1960s – 1970s, Paulo naturally became a hippie, organizing his life through living arrangement with many different “tribes”, experimenting with a lot of drugs, and despite of his mediocre looks he managed to have many women in his life. This includes many moments where he juggled two or three women at once, had various affairs, including one with a married woman, and had several genuine attempts of marriages that it makes the book a somewhat like the series How I Met Your Mother, where I got increasingly curious how he can ended up with that person mentioned at the first chapter when he was already older.
In between the shenanigans, Paulo often got himself into MORE shenanigans. Such as joining a satanic cult, briefly experimenting with homosexuality, nearly killed a person the first time he self-taught how to drive a car, soliciting prostitutes, worked as an actor in a soft porn movie, plagiarizing a newspaper article and claim it as his own, exploring bizarre occult and witchcraft, that weird event which can only be described as meeting with the devil, and went as far as claiming someone else’s work as his own in his book on vampire.
Yes, Paulo is not a saint, nor did he claim to be one. And that what makes his life story so damn interesting. Story that also includes all the injustices occurring to him, like the most prominent one where he experienced the military dictatorship’s brutality and getting jailed for 5 days, enduring torture, as well as being kidnapped by the government, twice.
Another common feature of his life is his many travel stories, which were all gripping and so much fun to read. From his hippie adventure to Bolivia-Peru-Chile-Argentina-Uruguay, to the misadventure to Paraguay, the few months road trip in the US with so little money (in which he nearly died), the 8 months road trip across Western and Eastern Europe, until the many luxurious globe trekking he did after he became an international best seller writer.
Moreover, Paulo is also a person who believes in moments, signs, chances, or mythical meaning of events. For example, he very nearly got into a plane that would later crashed and killing everyone on board, and saw that as a sign. He had an epiphany during his travel in the US on the exact day Nixon resigned as the US President. He also encountered a meaningful moment when he visited Nazi concentration camp in Dacau, which forever changed his life. Hence it was no surprise when he encountered a strange individual in Paris, he was intrigued and ended up joining the Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM) order, an alleged Catholic order that studies symbolic language through an oral teaching system. RAM would eventually provide him with the experiences that inspired most of his books.
Indeed, after a long last, after about 2/3rd of the book, Paulo eventually did what he’s always dreamed of: to be a proper writer. The remaining of the biography writes like visiting Liverpool to get the feel of the Beatles’ songs, where the writer years provide clues on how he got inspirations for his books.
Inspirations such as his activity in Spain that became the story in “The Pilgrimage”, his travel to Egypt that inspired “The Alchemist”, a woman called Brida for a novel with the same name “Brida”, “the Valkyries” that was inspired by women motorbike gang in Mexico that he met, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” on his experience in France, “Veronika Decides to Die” on his own experience in the 1960s (“Veronika is Paulo Coelho”), “Eleven Minutes” from a prostitute named Maria that he met in Geneva, and “The Zahir” which was inspired by a real life war correspondent.
At the very first chapter, the book began with a nice touch by showing what Paulo is doing today, as an international best seller author, jet setting around the world, living quietly in a small village in France. It served as an anchor for his proceeding crazy story, which made me repeatedly think throughout the book how can THIS guy become THAT Paulo Coelho. But after reading it word by word, from cover to cover, it all make perfect sense. It is simply impossible to get that much wisdom poured into the books if he hadn’t had a crazy turbulent life.
There’s never a dull moment in the book, just as there’s never a dull moment in the life of Paulo Coelho. And the author, Fernando Morais, portrays it excellently. One of the best biographies ever written.