What originally inspired you to write The Alchemist?
Coelho: My dream was to be a writer. I wrote my first book in 1987, The Pilgrimage, after completing my own personal pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. After that I thought, “Why did it take me so long to fulfill my dream?” So I decided to write a metaphor, and this metaphor is The Alchemist: a novel about someone who needs to fulfill his or her dream, but takes too long because he or she thinks it’s impossible.
The Alchemist has sold over 150 million copies worldwide, won 115 international prizes and awards, has been translated into 80 languages, and is still on the New York Times bestseller list today, 25 years after its initial publication. What impact has this success had on your life?
Coelho: Of course The Alchemist opened a lot of doors for me. At the moment I’m answering this question, the novel is still on The New York Times bestseller list. But success did not happen overnight, so I had time to get used to it. The book was not something that exploded all of a sudden. I believe success can be a blessing, and it can also be a curse. I was older when the recognition came, so I had another level of maturity to face that change. When it happened, I remember thinking, “My God, this is a blessing. ” So above all, I had to respect it. And the way to respect it is to really understand that a blessing has no explanation, but needs to be treasured and honored.
Do you closely relate to any of the characters in The Alchemist? If so, how?
Coelho: In The Alchemist, I relate myself to the Englishman – someone who is trying to understand life through books. It’s quite interesting how many times we use books to understand life. I think that a book is a catalyst: it provokes a reaction. I am a compulsive reader. I read a lot, but from time to time, there are books that changed my life. Well, it’s not that the book itself changed my life; it’s that I was already ready to change, and needed to not feel alone. The same thing happens with the Englishman in The Alchemist.
What have you discovered about your own personal destiny in the past 25 years since writing The Alchemist?
Coelho: What I learned after writing The Alchemist, after the worldwide success, is basically that I had a dream, a Personal Legend to fulfill. To be a writer is to write. To write means new books. New books mean new challenges. Of course, I could have stopped with The Alchemist a long time ago if I was only in it for money, but I really love what I do. I can’t see myself not writing. It’s not always an easy task, sometimes it’s very challenging, but this is what I do and this is what I like. So the journey itself is the miracle; it is the blessing. There is no point to reach. You have to travel your journey with joy, hope, and challenges in your heart.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Coelho: To my readers and my fans, basically my companions, I would say that spirituality is being brave, is taking risks, is daring to do something when people are always telling you not to. My parents, for example, did not want me to be a writer, and that’s why it took so long for me to fulfill my dream. But here I am, thanks to that moment after my pilgrimage from France to Spain, when I said to myself, “I can’t live with a dream that I did not even try to fulfill. ” Do the same thing.