* The best-selling author of “The Alchemist” was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
* His favorite place is Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, where he currently lives
* Having survived Brazil’s military dictatorship Coelho is proud of his country’s transformation
One of the most widely read authors of recent times, Brazilian-born novelist Paulo Coelho talks exclusively to CNN about what Brazil means to him.
Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, the best-selling author of “The Alchemist” dreamt of becoming a writer from an early age, but was stifled by his parents, who insisted he follow his father’s footsteps and become an engineer.
But only a year into his studies the adventurous young Brazilian had dropped out, and by the 1970s had made a name for himself in Brazil’s politically infused artistic movement, becoming a successful songwriter and co-creator of the controversial comic strip “Kring-ha.”
However, his messages were viewed as left-wing and dangerous: Coelho was branded a “subversive” by Brazil’s then-ruling military government and was arrested and tortured.
The experience had a strong affect on the writer and by the 1980s, Coelho had abandoned his artistic lifestyle and settled down. However, his passion for writing continued and after a few unsuccessful first starts, Coelho hit major success with his 1988 novel, “The Alchemist.”
Initially only given a small print run, the book eventually became a global bestseller, garnering numerous literary awards — translated into 67 languages and edited in more than 150 countries.
Now a household name, the novelist and United Nations messenger for peace talks to CNN about what he loves most about his country.
CNN: What does Brazil mean to you?
Paulo Coelho: Brazil is my way to see the world. Being born in that country means: “you don’t have a wall separating the physical reality from the magical reality.” Therefore, since my childhood I learned that to understand the world we need to go further and take the risks of sailing in unknown seas.
CNN: What do you like most about Brazil today?
PC: My people. Hard working, filled with fun and enthusiasm, understanding that if hope exists, there is room for everything else.
CNN: Where are your favorite places to go in Brazil?
PC: There are many, so I need to single out just one: Copacabana Beach, in Rio de Janeiro, where I live. Every hour I go to the window and look to all the transformations that a day may bring — the light, people walking, vendors etc. And then I smell the sea, and this smell takes me to a beautiful place inside of my soul.
CNN: What are your fondest memories of Brazil?
PC: Every single day that I spend here. My childhood and its innocence, my teenager period and its rebellion, my young adult years and the freedom to believe that everything was changing, my adult years — fighting for my dream of being a writer, and having the help of my friends.
CNN: How has Brazil changed in your lifetime?
PC: Most of my young years were spent under the boots of the military. I was arrested three times and tortured once. Little by little the political situation changed — and this was the most important change of my lifetime. Yesterday we thought we were just instruments of a most powerful game, beyond our control. Today we are proud of being Brazilians.
CNN: What does the future hold for Brazil?
PC: I don’t know. But as a Brazilian poet said: “Don’t lose your hope in difficult times: God was born in Brazil”.