Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

We are not victims

Author: Paulo Coelho

Solar Meninos de Luz, Favela Paví£o-Paví£ozinho, Rio de Janeiro


When you were 17 your parents had sent you to an asylum because they thought you were psychotic. And now you are the world’s biggest-selling novelist! How has been the journey? (from Katya)

My parents locked me up three times in a lunatic asylum. The reasons in my medical files are banal. It was said that I was isolated, hostile and miserable at school.
I was not crazy but I was rather just a 17-year-old who really wanted to become a writer. Because no one understood this, I was locked up for months and fed with tranquilizers. The therapy merely consisted of giving me electroshocks. They were intended to clear the uppermost layer of my memory in order to bring peace to my head.

I promised to myself that one day I would write about this experience, so young people will understand that we have to fight for our own dreams from a very early stage of our lives. The message in “Veronika decides to die” is that: dare to be different.
You are unique, and you have to accept you as you are, instead of trying to repeat other people’s destinies or patterns. Insanity is to behave like someone that you are not.
Normality is the capacity to express your feelings. From the moment that you don’t fear to share your heart, you are a free person.
I was a rebel. I was opposite everything, and that is actually a good thing to be when you are young of age. My parents tried to make me behave properly. They tried everything, from threats to complaining about how much I let them down, but nothing worked.
They thought they had lost control, and said to themselves: “He is mad. He wants to be an artist”. And then they committed me to this institution and I learned at very young age that I had to fight.
I chose not to look at myself as a victim but thought “ Paulo, now you are experiencing the difficulties that real artists actually should experience.”

When and where the duty of an writer finishes? (from Nuria)
For a period of my life, I was too busy, fighting for my own chance. Then, for another period, I could see – In my case – the light at the end of the tunnel. However, at this time I did not have money to help the others to fight for their dreams. In 1995 I earned enough money to start a project, so I chose to:

a] support the children, the future of my country, giving them the same opportunity that I had as for education and love

b] support people who do not have enough money to live, so they only survive.

Today I invest up to 300.000 USDollars a year in these two projects. I could invest more, but there is a problem of physical space: we work in a “favela” ( a shanty town ) close to my apt., in five different houses, taking care of 310 children. We need three more houses to take care of another 200, and, although I have money to expand the project, there are no places to rent or sell in this area, so we are waiting for the first opportunity to do this. I also use my “influence”, as much as I can to get things from the govt., like credits for new projects developed by these people, basic sanitary needs, etc. You can see some of these children in the photo above.

However, I only contribute with money and some sporadic visits to the places. The anonymous heroes and heroines, who are there all day long, working hard, are the ones who deserve the honors. Without them, my money would be useless. The great warrior Isabella Maltarolli is also in the photo above

Subscribe to Blog

Join 17K other subscribers

Stories & Reflections


Paulo Coelho Foundation

Gifts, keepsakes and other souvenirs