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A wife and mother with a seemingly-perfect life becomes bored, craves risk and throws herself at an old flame. Best-selling author Paul Coelho uses this premise as a jumping off point for exploring the ways in which infidelity can cause both relationships and individuals to unravel, and unpacking the myriad of emotions–including apathy–that adultery often inspires. Kojo talks with Coelho about the novel, his craft and his 9 million-plus Twitter followers.
- Paulo Coelho Author, "Adultery: A Novel"
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Food Wednesday, preserves and canning for your household. But first, a wife and mother with a seemingly perfect life becomes bored, craves risk and throws herself at an old flame, potentially ruining her marriage and endangering her career in the process.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt may sound like a soap opera plot but in this case it's Paulo Coelho's latest novel. It's jumping off point for exploring the ways in which infidelity can cause both relationships and individuals to unravel and what it takes to pull them back from the brink. Here to explain the intricacies of adultery, his latest best-selling novel, which this week, joins his previous work, "The Alchemist" on the New York Times list, is Paulo Coelho. Paulo Coelho joins us from Geneva Switzerland. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. PAULO COELHOIt is my pleasure for having me, Kojo. And I suggest you to call me Paulo and I call you Kojo because our second names are very complicated.
NNAMDIYes. I noticed this before so I really appreciate that. You're...
NNAMDI...known for taking inspiration from encounters that you have had with individuals, in the course of your travels or with fans, what sparked the idea for this novel, "Adultery?"
COELHONow, well, the very beginning, it was, I read The Kinsey Report, based it on that -- that was a report that was written at the beginning of the '40s about...
COELHO...sexuality. And Kinsey made a lot of good by telling Americans how we behave, sexually speaking. So we're taught that we are monsters, that nobody masturbates, that nobody does this or that and that. And all of a sudden, the Kinsey report told to a lot of people that they were not alone. And I thought, probably I should discuss something that it is relevant to our days, huh.
COELHOAnd I thought, of course, I thought it was depression and I made a post, I said, "Let's discuss depression." And I got, in one day, I got over 1,000 answers. And I realized that depression was not the issue, the issue was that people felt depressed because they felt betrayed by their partner. So I said, probably infidelity is the issue. Let me start digging up this issue and I realized that it was much more than a post, than an online discussion, it could be a book. I went to forums anonymously as a woman, as a man, I saw how people suffer because of, well, of adultery, so to say. And I said, I'm going to write a book on it.
NNAMDISo Paulo started an investigation about depression, the responses came back about the feelings of betrayal by a loved one. And so the theme of the book switched from that to "Adultery." While some of this inspiration, Paulo, may have been crowd sourced, readers always want to know how much of a novel is part of the authors life. How much did you draw on your own experience in writing this novel?
COELHOOkay. You're talking -- you're asking me if I commit adultery, right?
NNAMDIYep, straight up.
COELHOOf course, so I've been married for 34 years and at the very beginning of my relationship with my wife I was not that faithful because I always had this idea that eventually this is not the right person, etcetera, etcetera. And I had three or four affairs outside my marriage and also she had affairs at the very beginning. And then, we realize that we did not need anybody else, that we are happy together. And I'm happy that we did not destroy our relationship because of a one-night stand with someone else.
COELHOOf course, for (unintelligible) we have been faithful with each other. But at the very beginning, it was not like this. And not for me, not for her and I'm glad that things worked out like this.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Paulo Coelho. We're talking about his latest novel, it's titled, "Adultery." Of course, his previous works include "The Alchemist," "Aleph" and "Veronika Decides to Die." If you have comments or questions for Paulo, give us a call at 800-433-8850. What emotions do you think are most closely associated with adultery, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Paulo, one of the characters committing adultery, in this novel, is Linda, a journalist who seems to have a picture perfect life. What then pushes her into this affair?
COELHOExactly what you mentioned, a perfect life because at the end of the day and I know a lot of people like this, they have everything they want to have and they get bored, they need adventure. Adventure is in our blood. So Linda's there. She has everything and she does not have one answer to her main question, that it is also my question and your question, that it is what is the meaning of life? What I'm doing here, you know? Am I going to repeat this day again and again for the next, I don't know, the next decades that I'll be leaving. So out of boredom comes depression and out of depression comes this need for adventure.
NNAMDIOf the emotions that we associate with affairs, passion, guilt, desire, shame, apathy doesn't offer rank, yet apathy is a factor in this case. Why do you think apathy is often overlooked and why is it important?
COELHOI think that apathy is the main, main, main issue because you have this moment in your life that you think that you're going to repeat the same day forever. Guilt comes later and passion is included in the back of, so-called, betrayal. But apathy is that sensation that, you can't do anything different anymore and then you really lose your ground and you're there and you get into depression.
NNAMDIOkay. Let me take it another way, adultery is often defined by one act of infidelity and while that's certainly present in this case, the focus in roughly the first half of this novel is more on a kind of obsession that leads to some unraveling, on Linda's part, the focus seems to be more on that than on the action. What made you decide to focus attention on that aspect of the dynamic?
COELHOOkay, Kojo. You're broadcasting from Washington, right?
NNAMDII think so.
COELHOSo you see, politicians are no destroying their careers because, well, because of infidelity.
COELHOThey are many cases all over the world. But I think that politicians are much more vulnerable. So I think that this question should be directed to them, not to the author because I -- my intention was not to judge adultery, to begin with, right? It was to give to my reader a picture of how things are going in the world, right now. There's a lot of trouble, a lot of confusion, a lot of, you know better than I. But at the end of the day, why do people risk what they want for a one-night stand, for example. And then...
NNAMDIAnd I should point out that I'm not giving too much away, to say that the other party in Linda's relationship happens to be a politician.
NNAMDIWell, not to give too much more away of what happens, but forgiveness, not necessarily of a partner but of oneself is also a major theme in this novel. Why do you think so many people find it difficult to be kind to themselves, to forgive themselves?
COELHOBecause we always have this -- we -- wow, to begin with, I don't understand why but when I talk to people, they have this sensation of always self -- blaming themselves for everything. And I'm not talking about love affairs. I'm talking about an any issue in life, you always feel guilty of what you're doing. You always blame yourself because you're not doing enough. You know, you're not doing enough to your family, you're not doing enough to your work, et cetera, et cetera.
COELHOSo guilty is this part of her life that really, well, I can't understand. I felt -- I will not say that I felt guilty, I say that I will -- I did a regret a few things in my life. But I never felt guilty because when I made the mistake -- and I made many, many, many mistakes, I said, okay, so what? I have to move on. I cannot be stuck there and start whipping myself and say, oh, Paulo, you're not such a nice person as yourself expected to be. We have these pattern of how should we behave. And we forget that we're human beings, at the end of the day.
COELHOWe are human beings. For a lot of things that we do right and a lot of things that we do wrong. And moreover, we don't know sometimes when are doing something that helped people and we are doing some things that, at the end of the day, are going to hurt people. Most...
NNAMDIOur guest is -- go ahead, please.
COELHOSorry. No, no. No, most of our actions we don't know the consequences of them.
NNAMDIOur guest is Paulo Coelho, we're discussing his latest novel, it is titled, "Adultery" and Paulo admits that he made many, many, many mistakes. But Paulo, I made many mistakes but you made many, many, many mistakes. So let the record show that Paulo made more mistakes than Kojo did. Paulo, this book...
NNAMDIThis book is recently out in the U.S., but it debuted early in other countries. It's often said that attitudes toward affairs are more relaxed in Europe and other parts of the world then they are here in the U.S. Do you expect or are you already hearing different reactions from readers based on what country they might happen to be in?
COELHOThe only reaction that I had from America is, as you mentioned at the very beginning of the program, it is the New York Times best-selling list and also best-seller lists in America. But, no, but I don't think that when you go to the family, the reactions are different. You always feel betrayed in a way or the other. Some countries can be more tolerant when we see, for example, back to the politician.
COELHOWell, when you -- a politician betraying his wife or her wife, but I think that when we go to the core of the family, it's always something that is not easy to swallow. I was talking my early experiences about adultery, yeah. And I would like to emphasize that I've been married for 34 years and for people who are joining us now and, well, when my wife said that she was in Madrid and this is the thing that we talk openly, yeah.
COELHOAnd she said, no, I had a one-night stand with someone else. That was -- I don't remember my first impulse but I thought, so what? I love her. Now it is hurting but should I really throw away all this beautiful relationship because one night she was in Madrid, she did that? No. But as I got to remember exactly how did I feel when I can, I can tell you I did not feel very well by knowing this as she probably did not feel very well by knowing that I had some ex-conjugal relationship.
COELHOWell, at the end of the day, what I really -- where I'm glad is that we survive it. And of course, if I may say something else...
COELHO...most of the people that get divorced or they split after a -- one discover that, oh, there is not, quote "faithful" unquote, they regret. They regret because they know that love is beyond everything. And if there is love, there's always salvation. There's always a way to overcome your situation.
NNAMDILots of young readers, including Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who survived the Taliban attack and has since become a best-selling author herself, flock to your books. What are you hoping that people, especially young people, take away from this novel?
COELHOWell, the first thing is that of course my publishing houses were not very happy because they think that I should write -- they don't -- well, I'm not going to blame any publishing house. But every time that they come with a different subject, you know, they are a bit uncomfortable because they think that I should write "The Alchemist" number one and then the sequel and then another Alchemist. And I'm free to write things that they think that are relevant to me.
COELHOSo you mentioned one of my books "Veronika Decides to Die." "Veronika Decides to Die" is based on my own experience in the mental institution. When I was very young, I wanted to be a writer. And my parents, they were desperate. And they told me, you cannot be a writer. You should be an engineer like your father. But then I fought for my place in the sun. And they could not accept this and they put me in a mental institution three times, which today, well, I don't blame them. They did that out of love.
COELHOSo what I try to do when I write a book, first of all, is to discover myself. And they do know what the readers are going to expect from "Adultery." I'm -- it is definitely different from "The Alchemist," of course.
COELHOIt's definitely different from "Veronika Decides to Die." But this is the freedom that I have is using my books as a way to discover myself. And that's why at the moment that we are talking, I'm close to 200 million copies sold worldwide. And so far "Adultery" has been published in many countries and the reactions were fantastic. That way Americans see because America dictates a lot. But France was great, South American great, Asia fantastic.
NNAMDIYour work has sold so many hundreds of millions of copies in dozens of languages. It's my understanding that you primarily write in your native Portuguese though you're fluent in several other languages as well. What is the translation process like and how involved -- in versions put out in languages that you speak, how involved are you with those versions?
COELHOZero, but I tell you, there are books that I know that I'm the author because there is my photo, because I cannot even read my name. I cannot even read the title. And I'm very strict about this title issue. For example, some publishers they said, oh "Adultery." This is so horrible. The reader -- you cannot give it to your mom a book called "Adultery." You cannot give to your husband a book called "Adultery." And I said, but this is the title.
COELHOHowever, some countries they simply know that they don't understand the language. I remember going to China, for example. And "The Alchemist" has just been launched in China. And I saw, well, my photo (unintelligible) was in this car that was taking me from the airport to the hotel. And there was this long sentence. That was the title. And I said, my god, but the Chinese they have characters. And one character may easily say -- "The Alchemist" is a very short word, no?
COELHOAnd I said, my god, why you need that many letters go write to "The Alchemist?" And they said, but no, the title's not "The Alchemist." Nobody knows what an alchemist is in China. The title's "The Story of the Beautiful Boy of the Shepherd Boy who wanted to go in search of a treasure, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So sometimes just relax and trust people. I think that the secret of life, at the end of the day, is trusting people. They're not there to cheat you. You cannot be naive, but you cannot also be always defensive.
NNAMDISo Paulo, don't be surprised if you see the title in another language saying, the story of what happens when one person is unfaithful to another person. You have been fairly prolific since first publishing in the 1980s. And it's my understanding that you write very quickly. How much of that speed do you attribute to your earlier work as a songwriter?
COELHOWell, my work as a songwriter helped me a lot because helped me to be concise, to summarize ideas in one sentence. When you're writing lyrics for songs, you have one sentence and you have to express everything there. And you have to know that this sentence will be repeated over and over again if the song is successful. So it helped me to be concise. Today we have Twitter, it helps also. But by then it was my experience as a songwriter
COELHOHaving said that, let me tell you that I live my life, right?
COELHOSo my way of learning about life is by living. I cannot sit down there and learn by a manual of how to live your life. I never read this stuff of books, huh? So I live my life for two years and I am like a pregnant woman. I am making love with life and I'm making love with life. I'm getting pregnant. And on this I notice that the baby's ready. But, you know, the delivery process of a baby should be quick or you'll die in the process. And then I sit down when the book is there. The book is in my soul before I start writing it.
NNAMDISo in nine months I guess we can expect another novel from you.
COELHONo, no. Two years is my pregnancy cycle.
NNAMDIOh, that's a long pregnancy cycle. Paulo, thank you so much for joining us.
COELHOIt was my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me. And may God bless you and your family.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Paulo Coelho's latest novel is titled "Adultery." You may be familiar with his previous works. They include "The Alchemist" and "Veronika Decides to Die." We're going to be taking a short break. When we come back, it's Food Wednesday, preserving, canning, brining all could be in your future. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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