Interview With A Recovering Hippie Named Paulo Coelho

In his most recent book, best-selling author Paulo Coelho revisits his nomadic past, when he embarked from Brazil on a voyage that took him all the way to Kathmandu.

Paulo Coelho's 20th novel, 'Hippie' has just hit the stores
Paulo Coelho's 20th novel, "Hippie" has just hit the stores
Patricia Suarez

BUENOS AIRES — A new book by Paulo Coelho is always something to look forward to. His latest — and 20th book overall — is a "fictional" autobiography called Hippie. It's fast-paced, but he'd prefer people don't treat it "like a thriller" and rush through it.

In an interview by e-mail, the Brazilian writer tells Clarín that in writing Hippie, he followed the simple advice of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll: "Begin at the beginning ... and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

"I think that is what writing is," Coelho says. "And it's what I did when I wrote Hippie, just recounting what I had experienced."

The book recalls young Paulo's adventures in the wake of an affair with an older woman, including a prison stint and torture in then military-run Brazil. On his release, he decides to follow though on his oft-imagined plans to travel to Europe and onto Nepal. The book, already available in Europe and the United States, will be on sale in Argentina starting in September.

CLARIN: Hippie is self-fiction. You say its events did happen and you only pass them through the filter of fiction for the reader's benefit. How did it feel being your own character this time?

PAULO COELHO: All my books are a reflection of my soul. Some more visibly so, such as The Pilgrimage or The Valkyries, and others less so ... I wrote the book in the third person so I could see myself and look at things from a greater distance than how I perceived them at the time. Curiously, the book made me observe what is happening now, in these totally conservative societies of ours that have killed the inner freedom we had in that period. But yeah, all of the characters I create are mine. It's just that in Hippie I'm more visible: I'm him.

I laid out the story just as it was.

Hippie is above all a road movie. A traditional road movie about traveling through different geographies. But it's also a spiritual road movie. The protagonist leaves looking for personal growth and for that, experiences a series of events the way traditional heroes do — the writer's vocation, an old love, arrest and torture by paramilitaries, the trip to Amsterdam, an offer to become a drug trafficker, a new love, the Hare Krishna movement, the Sufi, the trip to Nepal — until he reaches his goal.

Did you plan the novel's entire trajectory? Or did you treat it like a road movie and let yourself be led by the character's experiences and desires?

Traveling was one of the keys to the hippie movement. It was where one found others. I didn't plan anything. I laid out the story just as it was. I wrote the book because I see today's world, where people are increasingly afraid of everything. You can't take a step to the left or right without people attacking you. What I wrote was quite simply my experience. Experience is always the story that fits best in literature, like train coaches, this time heading toward the past.

Coelho's new book "Hippie" and the author back in 1970 — Source: Official Facebook page

How much did the hippie movement impact you as a writer or artist?

The hippie movement was my epiphany. When the hippies arrived with a completely different idea of the world, I totally identified with them. One must recall that it was a very repressive period, when anyone different was, in one way or another, attacked.

The book needs special concentration.

Do you think the hippie movement somehow changed our world for the better? Should we take up again some of the things learned in that time?

The hippie movement was not impractical, idealist or anti-capitalist. It was something that sprang out of our society. We did not want to confront society for the sake of confrontation. What we wanted was to create a society apart, and perhaps we were very naive to think so. A society with different values regarding women, food, traveling and fashion ... The hippies did not succeed in changing the world for the better: We can see what a disaster the world has become. Yet the hippies of that time managed to change themselves for the better, to see the world differently. And they still see it with the responsibility and solidarity that characterized the hippies.

There is a list on Spotify of songs mentioned in your book. Would you recommend reading the novel listening to those songs?

No, that doesn't work. Because the book needs special concentration — which is why I am absolutely against the idea of adapting my books for the cinema. I do not sell my rights.

Despite what he says, there are a handful of films based on Coelho's books. He has also signed an agreement with a group of U.S. publishers and production companies to create a thriller-style television series, as reported by the entertainment outlet Deadline.

The novelist recently had an awkward moment with the Spanish weekly XL Semanal. During an interview at his home in Switzerland, he was asked if one can really be a hippie while living a life of luxury. "It is the exterior, not the interior," he replied tensely. Apparently regretting his answer, Coelho then asked for the interview "to start again."

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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