If one is to credit the hypothetical, then the success of the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho began very much in Africa.
This came after the translation of his 1988 bestseller The Alchemist, an allegorical novel about a shepherd boy who journeys to the pyramids in Egypt in search of a fortune. When the book was translated into English in 1993, it sold tens of millions of copies and launched the international career of Coelho. The novel, whose manuscript Coelho wrote in just two weeks, became a global phenomenon devoured by youngsters, celebrities and leaders like Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.
Coelho now wants to share some of that triumph with African readers. The novelist said in a tweet today that he was looking to distribute his books in both African cities and rural areas. “I’m going to buy the titles from my publishers [and] give them for free to schools & libraries,” he said, asking his followers to send their requests to an email address.
Based on the tweet responses, the call for applications has so far attracted individuals and organizations in countries including Djibouti, Madagascar, Kenya, and Tanzania. If supplied, readers could gain access to an oeuvre that includes three dozen books including memoirs, collected works, quotation books, and bestselling novels like The Pilgrimage.
Much to the surprise of fans though, this isn’t the first time that the 71-year-old has made his works accessible. He has in the past insisted on his books being priced fairly and that translations handled by local publishers. He has also made a point of travelling off the beaten path to promote his books telling the New York Times in 1999, “All my life the most important things have been what I learned from ordinary people.” In 2014, he also uploaded his personal papers online to create a virtual Paulo Coelho Foundation.
An hour after his post, Coelho tweeted that he was narrowing down the reach of his benevolence: for now, he was giving books to those only in sub-Saharan Africa and not those in the continent’s north.