Writer’s choice

The warm heart and spirituality of Paulo Coelho’s writing has moved many readers as, he says, classic storytelling has moved him.

John Donne’s well-known words ‘No man is an island’ echo perfectly the state of mind which I am in while writing this piece.

When I was asked to write about my choice the first thing that came to mind was: how can I choose? I’m not talking about the capacity to isolate one author – we all have our favorites. What I mean goes beyond that: for me it’s difficult to detach one story from the trails of imagination that have led to my own tales.

When I was a young boy I was fascinated by The Arabian Nights.

Of course the intricate plots and the mysterious and magical settings transported me, a Brazilian boy, towards an alien, exciting world. But what truly impressed me was the relentless storytelling of Scheherazade.

A beautiful body reclined over a profusion of cushions whispering adventures in the ear of a wounded king.

Like drops of water, her stories began to mould the rock in this man’s heart. Each drop comes from a spring that belongs to all of us, and that’s precisely why Scheherazade never died – not by the hand of the king nor in the memory of mankind. When I wrote The Alchemist, this book was a strong influence.

Also very early in my life I came upon the tale of Narcissus retold by Oscar Wilde. In it is told not only the sadness of the beautiful boy’s death, but also the sadness of the river. When asked why he was crying, the river answered – ‘because I could see myself in this man’s eyes’. The river’s grievance came from the fact that it could no longer see itself in this pond of Narcissus’s pupils. That story made me read all his books and plays, and Wilde remains one of my icons today.

Later on when I was 20, I read one of Jose Luis Borges’ short stories in a science-fiction magazine, and fell in love immediately with his style and his universe. I discovered that this tale (‘The Library of Babel’) was part of a great collection of short stories, Ficciones. Borges is the only South American writer all of whose books I read and re-read.

We should also not forget Jorge Amado who is, without any doubt, the best Brazilian contemporary writer. In his classic Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, a young mulatto woman, poor, ready to work just to eat, finds a job in a restaurant. The owner, a Turk, sees in her his modern Cinderella.

The first 200 pages or so take place in one single day and Amado describes like nobody else the heart and the mind of this melting pot of races, religions, prejudices, social gaps and human contradictions that we call Brazil. If you ever have to choose a single book about my country, choose this one.

As a writer I am bound to other writers. We mirror the world around us. We are but books making reference to others’ books that make up this labyrinth we call experience. Sometimes a rush of wind comes through this library and turns the pages of these books. This is inspiration – the very breath that stirs us and lifts us.

I agree with John Donne that we are not islands. I would go even further and add we are not islands because we are the ocean moved by the tempests of life and by the light of the moon.


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