Childhood and Schooldays (1953-1961)
During his primary school years, Paulo Coelho lived with his parents in the Botafogo secured estate to protect him from bad influences in the world around it. However, he was responsible for many “odd things that were happening in the community” (Morais, 2009, p. 40). This was connected to his “secret organization” named “Arco”, which he had built up together with his friend and extended family member
Paulo Araripe. Together they specialised in “sabotage” of the estate (Morais, p. 41), playing tricks in the neighbourhood.
In 1954, at the age of 6 years, Coelho’s parents enrolled him in a primary school called “Our Lady Victorious School”, which was seen as one of the best schools in the city. This school was supposed to later on lead him to one of the best and traditionally most established secondary schools in Rio, called St Ignatius. The main values at the primary school were hard work and respect for others (Morais, 2009, p. 41). After the first 2 years in school, in which Coelho had done very well, his marks slipped drastically. He loved reading and he became the best storyteller in the estate, while not achieving in school what his parents expected from him (Morais, 2009).
Paulo Coelho’s love of stories and his ability to write were already evident in primary school. In 1956, he participated in his first writing competition at school. Although he lacked confidence and himself voted for another pupil, he was surprised to find himself the winner of the competition (Morais, 2009, p. 43). Although he was very successful in writing and storytelling, he did not perform well in other subjects and failed his first entry examinations for the secondary school, St Ignatius. As a punishment for his failure, his parents sent him to a camp where he attended private lessons and had to do physical exercises every day for 2 months (Morais, 2009, p. 44). However, he failed the entry examinations again. Finally, Coelho studied the whole year of 1958 and passed the examination with an average mark to enter St Ignatius in the same year. Even in his secondary school, St Ignatius, his school career was not flourishing and his marks and monthly grades were a “nightmare” and “disastrous” to his parents (Morais, 2009; p. 53). However, he did not care about his marks and loved reading stories. He was highly interested in novels and adventure stories, but not in the books he had to read at school.
When Paulo Coelho was about 12 years old he started writing a diary on a daily basis (Morais, 2009, p. 51). For the first time in his life, he wrote down a short selfportrait, introducing himself to the world. At the same time he started recording short messages and thoughts on a tape recorder and collected the tapes. On these records he spoke about his emotions, described his actions and referred to the “perverse side of his personality” rather than to his more generous and sensitive side (Morais, 2009, p. 52). On these tapes he also recorded his feelings towards the girlfriends who had started to come into his life. He also reported on the first incident with his girlfriend who left him when he spent holiday time at Araruama with his extended family (Morais, 2009, p. 53).
During his childhood, Paulo Coelho was skinny, thin-legged and seemed to be physically weak. He experienced some physical weaknesses and suffered from respiratory problems. However, he managed to make up for his bodily weakness by knowing more than his friends (Morais, 2009, p. 42). At times, when he stayed at Araruama- the place where his aunt and uncle lived - during the holidays his asthma increased. In this sickly condition, he started writing letters to his parents who were very worried about his well-being. Out of this habit of writing letters to his parents he later developed the regularity to write letters to other family members or scribble his thoughts onto pieces of paper that he then hid in secret places (Morais, 2009, p. 51).