Harper Collins, £7.99
Brazilian Paulo Coelho is one of the most widely read authors in the world. His works include 'The Pilgrimage', 'By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept', and the recent 'Veronica Decides to Die', but he is best known for 'The Alchemist', a fable about an Andalucian shepherd boy who sets out in search of distant treasure. Coelho has sold over 31m books worldwide in 51 different languages. His novels have been described as having "a life-enhancing impact on millions", and yet, I must admit I have not yet read one. He has been on my list for a while, along with a number of other must-read authors - this book has put him right back up at number one.
Spanish journalist Juan Arias offers an intimate portrait of Coelho, a man who spent time as a songwriter for some of Brazil's most famous pop stars before becoming a best-selling author. Short introductory paragraphs lead each chapter into transcriptions of recorded conversations with Coelho, held in his Rio de Janeiro home. At one stage Arias gives three Spanish students he noticed reading Coelho's books on a plane the opportunity to put their own questions to the author they so admire.
Coelho's life experience has made him a fascinating person to listen to. His family had him admitted to a mental institution as a young man because they could not understand his unorthodox behaviour. Here he comments, "The worst thing I discovered in the asylum was that I could choose madness and live a quiet life without working." It is this kind of honesty that gives the book its strength. Coelho truly opens his heart to Arias, un-self-consciously talking about things he has avoided discussing publicly for years.
He talks about his experience of being kidnapped and tortured by paramilitaries, his encounters with black magic and drugs, the nature of writing and his own spiritual quest. At the end of the sessions, which took place in July 1998, Coelho expressed a desire not to talk about his life again for another twenty years, which is fine – there is more than enough material here to read, re-read and ponder for the next two decades.