Stories & Reflections
10 Sept 2010, celebrating 500.000 copies sold in Finland, a country with 6.000.000 population
Many thanks for the invitation to this fabulous party and for all your efforts. It’s the first Bazar party ever. I still can’t believe it’s Markus and his band entertaining tonight.
I have been asked, as Paulo’s Nordic publisher, to say something about him and publishing his books. I have been Paulo’s publisher now for 15 years. I bought rights to The Alchemist in 1993 as one of the first publishers in the world, to my previous Norwegian publishing house Ex Libris. In 1995, Paulo came to Oslo for his first promotional visit. I remember picking him up at the airport a late evening in November. He came alone and only with a small suitcase he could bring inside the plane. He never travels with more. Nor in his private life. He lives as he writes, he keeps nothing, prefers to own nothing, to not be slave of things and possessions. He lives almost as a monk, an eternal pilgrim. When he travels in private, and he often does, he and his wife can stay in hostels. But when doing promotion, he is of course always placed in suites, dining at the finest restaurants, meeting the world’s leading people. This contrasts his life. He lived for many years in a small house in a tiny village with 140 inhabitants in the Pyrenees, close to Lourdes. Before buying the house, he lived with his wife for two years in a small hotel close by, just two rooms and without internet connection. And why? He could have bought a mansion. He felt he had become too dependent on materialism and on the internet, and needed a change in order to change himself. It resulted in his novel Eleven minutes, his second biggest worldwide bestseller. This is Paulo in a nutshell: Always challenging the existing, always curious. I met his biographer some years ago in Rio, South-America’s leading biographer. He said that even if Paulo hadn’t sold a copy, it was the strongest life story he had seen. He compared him to a pilot of a small plane, cruising in the sky on a beautiful summer day. Far away in the horizon are some stormy clouds. Paulo would head straight there and straight through, just to see if he would survive.
I have published and met great authors, like J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown. What distinguishes Paulo is his compassion to stay in touch with his readers. He uses every possible mean, to such extreme that NYTimes a few years ago named him the greatest online marketer in the world. He doesn’t do it to sell more books, he just loves the interaction. Every week he posts questions and challenges to his readers on his blog. And he connects people, like with the indie film “The virtual witch”, based on “The witch from Portobello”. Likewise he also challenges his publishers. It’s a great school of publishing, we always have to perform better, find new ways to reach readers, tapping into the ideas of his 64 international publishing houses.
When he first came to Norway he was completely unknown outside of Brazil. We did an on-the-road tour to Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim with a concert producer and a flamenco dancer. My attempt for some cultural program (Hayden’s Messiah or maybe it was Verdi’s Requiem) he kindly denied. He preferred a bar. And in that bar he would talk to everybody, make friends, challenge them. Paulo is a very amiable person, open minded, joyful, playful, both professionally and in private. He is full of enthusiasm for what he does in every moment. I remember from our visit in Helsinki in 2002. Walking up the Esplanade one evening, we came across a bar. Inside was a lonely Brazilian guitarist entertaining. That led to many vodka shots and two hours where Paulo and I were singing, all from Beatles to bossa nova, which Paulo naturally sang alone. He loves singing, and several times I have witnessed Paulo rising at a dinner table to sing alone. He would have loved to join the band tonight!
What underpins the success of the many books he has written over the last two decades? Although he writes out of a need to understand himself and his own life, he also touches the hearts of millions as they discover that he is asking the same questions they ask themselves, “even,” as Paulo puts it, “if we don’t share the same answers”. He challenges the curious, open-minded and intelligent reader. Coelho’s readership knows no frontiers of sex, age, class, cultural background, nationality or religion. Besides he is a great story teller.
I know him well also in private; his spiritual side, his constant quest for truth and of independence, and many times I have witnessed him making decisions no one around him have understood, but which later proved to be very wise. He’s indeed a wise man, connected to a spiritual source, and he would not have been the most read author world-wide had he not. And he’s a brave man. As Paulo wrote to his biographer stating that he would not read through the manuscript until the book was published: “The truth shall set you free”, even giving him access to his huge collection of personal diaries since childhood.
Paulo may not get the Nobel price in literature, but in my view he should have it, for no author has contributed more to the spiritual change and to the intercultural processes taking place all over the world now, or made more people think and reflect about who they are and how to live life more fully. Which is what literature is about.
Again, Ritva, Markus, Tiina, Maija and Vilja, many thanks for this invitation.