FROM DRUGS AND JAIL TO BEST SELLER
PAULO COEHLO’S ‘THE ALCHEMIST’
26 million sold in 56 Languages
 
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By Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
Freelance blogger, retired columnist Philippine Daily Inquirer

 

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Paul Coelho’s life is a story of depression to inspiration, despair to enlightenment, anonymity to fame, poverty to wealth. His life was a roller-coaster ride from darkness to light. His novel The Alchemist, which sold 26 million copies in 56 languages, transported him to stardom.

 

Born into a conservative Catholic family in Rio de Janeiro, Paulo Coelho, was an introverted rebel who was committed into a mental institution by his parents at the age of 17. He tried to escape three times and was finally released at the age of 20. In the 60s, he dropped out of law school, picked up a backpack, and roamed South America, North Africa, Mexico, and Europe, where he started taking drugs.

 

He then became a songwriter, where he was influenced by magic and occultism from the music he was immersed in. In 1974, he was arrested and tortured by the military who viewed his lyrics as subversive and dangerous. He worked as an actor, theater director, and journalist before exploding into fame and fortune as a writer.

 

The beginning of the explosion happened in 1986 when he walked 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela, a noted pilgrim’s road in Northern Spain. There, he saw the light, the same light that blinded St. Paul from a life of persecution to a life of service to the Lord. He had a spiritual awakening that would turn his world upside down, a free fall that would fulfill a long lost dream when he was 17. He began a career in writing on top of his lucrative songwriting profession.

 

His life was made into a biographical film in 2014. THE PILGRAIM – STORY OF PAULO COELHO, first in Portuguese, then translated into English. One of the producers, Iona de Macedo, told noted international film magazine Screen International, “The film tells the story of a man who has a dream. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland – he’s someone who is too big for his house.”

 

The Alchemist was originally published by a small Brazilian publishing firm, then headed for the stratosphere when it was taken by Harper Collins in 1994. When it came out, he was the object of biased press criticism from all sides, being a former drug addict and ‘subversive’ ex-convict. Ironically, the more he was criticized and beaten to a pulp by critics, the more people read his book. That was how he was instantly catapulted into fame.

 

But why and how did The Alchemist gain so many readers in so short a time. What is its mystique that awed the world? The story was simple but the spirituality profound. The story revolved around a shepherd boy, Santiago, who had a dream. In his travels, he encounters people and places which helped him fulfill his dream. That is the simple story.

 

Paolo writes, “We all need to be aware of our personal calling.” He says that we all have a path that God chose for us here on earth. Not all have the courage to confront his dream. The obstacles can be immense but love is the stimulus, the energy. We have to overcome the fear of failure, the same fear of a baby eagle during first flight, when he soars or he dies. Paolo knew a lot about failure. He was an ‘expert’ in it.

 

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p249 when you have a dream

 

p224 the self is opaque

 

p221 and the Word was made flesh

 

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