The Teenage Years (1962-1966)

During his teenage years, Coelho grew up in a strict Jesuit tradition and it was around this time that he turned away from religious dogma and became an atheist (Arias, 2001, p. 13). Many years later he recalls that the Jesuits provided him with an excellent grounding in discipline, but “they gave me an horror of religion, from which I ended up distancing myself’ (Arias, 2001, p. 33). It was during the same time that Paulo Coelho’s respiratory problems turned into a debilitating asthma, which was unpredictable and caused by the weather, dust, mould or smoke (Morais, 2009, p. 49).

The only thing he was interested in during his teenage years was the idea of becoming a writer, his friendships with girls and his struggle to believe in God (Morais, 2009), as described in the following section.

Becoming a Writer

At the end of 1962, based on the wish of his father, Paulo Coelho enrolled for the scientific stream at St Ignatius. He would have wished to enrol in the arts stream, but preferred to follow the wish of his father. His marks decreased with every school year. Coelho pursued the hobby of building model aeroplanes, then rockets and collecting stamps, but all his new interests quickly disappeared again (Morais, 2009).

It was in 1962 that for the first time in his life Paulo Coelho developed the idee fixe of becoming a writer (Morais, 2009, p. 62). In an autobiographic story Coelho (2006, p. 11) reports a dialogue between his mother and himself. When he told her in 1963 that he wanted to become an author, his mother seemed sad and referred to the fact that his father was an engineer. As an engineer he was a logical, thinking man who looked at the world with a precise, accurate and objective view. Coelho’s mother proposed that he should become like his uncle, who was a civil engineer by profession and who wrote and published books in his leisure time. However, he was convinced already at this stage that one can only become successful when one is dedicated. He said to his mother, “No, mother, I just want to be a writer. Not an engineer who writes books” (Coelho, 2006, p. 11). Inspired by his talk with his mother, he started inquiring about what exactly a writer was and came up with the following ideas (Coelho, 2006, p. 11): [1]

  • 3. Only other writers understand what the writer wants to say.
  • 4. A writer knows difficult terms in language and likes to shock his environment.
  • 5. When a writer wants to win the heart of a woman, he says that he is a writer and writes her poems.
  • 6. Since a writer is educated, he can always become a well-recognised critic of literature.
  • 7. When he is asked what book he is reading, he usually mentions a book nobody knows.
  • 8. A writer is fascinated by the book “Ulysses” of James Joyce.

Despite the fact that his mother emphasised that Coelho did not wear glasses and that it was more difficult to become a writer than to be an engineer, Coelho felt as if he was a writer already, because of his uncombed hair, the cigarettes in his pocket and the theatre play under his arm (Coelho, 2006, p. 14).

  • [1] A writer wears glasses and does not brush his hair. 2. He should not be understood by his own generation.
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