was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the son of Pedro Queima de Souza an engineer, and his wife Lygia, a homemaker. His middle-class parents did not share his dream of an artistic career. When he was 17, his father had him committed to a mental institution where he endured electroshock therapy. Later when he got involved with a theatre group and started work as a journalist, they had him recommitted. He sought spiritual experiences travelling throughout Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, as well as Europe and North Africa. Coelho
later launched an alternative magazine called 2001
. After joining the Alternative Society and publishing a series of comic strips about freedom, he was imprisoned and was kidnapped and tortured by paramilitaries. After this, Coelho turned away from progressive politics, working as an executive in the music industry. After a prophetic dream he met a stranger who urged him to study the benign side of magic and to walk the pilgrim's Road to Santiago. After completing the pilgrimage in 1987, Coelho wrote The Pilgrimage
, describing his experiences of the extraordinary in ordinary lives. A year later he wrote The Alchemist
which was not well received. When he wrote Brida
, he gained much attention in the press and both books made best seller lists.Career
As part of the Brazilian rock scene, Coelho wrote song lyrics for many famous performers in Brazilian music, such as Elis Regina and Rita Lee. His most well known work was with Raul Seixas. Together they wrote such successes as Eu nasci há dez mil anos atrás (I was born ten thousand years ago), Gita and Al Capone, amongst 60 other songs. Seixas taught Coelho the magic of communication: a complex message doesn't need to be hard to understand - the message must be as simple as possible to grasp, even though to live it is the hardest of things. As Seixas sings: "Two hands together at the same prayer" (Coisas do coração )or "the beauty of simplicity" ( Eu quero mesmo ). Acclaim and criticism
Although Coelho has achieved great international success, his work has not been unanimously appreciated at home; his election to the Brazilian Academy of Letters proved controversial. Seen by some Brazilian literary critics as a lesser author whose material is too simplistic and similar to that of self-help books, criticism of his work arises mostly from his plain, direct style and borrowing of ideas from other authors, to the extent of plagiarism. Additionally, his works in Portuguese contain grammatical errors and inaccuracies; some of these have been minimized in translation or altered in later editions. Some consider his books incompatible with mainstream Catholicism, due to their mixture of mysticism, spiritual exercises, meditation and supernatural experiences. Coelho in his website states that Catholicism is his personal way of enlightenment and knowing God, but also claims that religion has nothing to do with his spirituality; he considers that all religions are "correct". Despite spiritual themes, his works do not espouse any specific religion, apart from Catholic elements which figure in some plots.