In Box

Epiphanies: Paulo Coelho

One of the world's most popular novelists, Coelho has sold more than 100 million books in 150-plus countries. He spoke with FP about growing up in Brazil, the importance of artists today, and how to sell novels in Africa.


Since I was a young teenager, my dream was to be a writer. But of course, first your parents tell you it is impossible, then they say you are never going to make a living out of it. And in my case, they went even further: They put me in a mental institution when I was just 18 or 19, I don’t remember. Three times.

Everybody is a political writer, even if he writes about plants. You cannot avoid being political. The fact that you speak out or that you are silent is a political act — silence is also political.

What gives us a lot of hope is that, in a moment when all bridges are collapsing — economic bridges, political bridges — when it seems that people don’t understand each other, at least they understand the story. At least they understand the music. At least they understand the ballet. So art, somehow, is one of the few bridges left intact in a moment that we still need communication between different cultures.

Every writer wants to be read. But there are limitations due to price and to distribution. You cannot be all over Africa because there are some places they don’t even have bookstores. But, funny enough, they have the Internet! It is unbelievable. So I post all my books for free on the Internet, and people can download them. If they like it, they are going to pay. You have to trust people.

David Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. @davidkenner

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