Brazil is the 2013 Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book fair and participates with 70 authors, selected by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. The most successful Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, made a last-minute decision to not participate in the delegation. It was on such short notice that his face shined anyway from many posters in Frankfurt last week.
During the past month, Brazil mainly made news with hundreds of thousands protesting in many cities of the country against corruption, bad management and social injustice. In the forefront of the Soccer World Championship, slated to happen 2014 for the second time after 1950 in Brazil, a lot of money was spent for construction and renovation. But mostly for soccer stadiums, little for infrastructure or for the common folk.
The straw that broke the camel's back was increasing the prices for public transportation. After spending billions for the Soccer World Championship and related construction, it seemed that not enough money was left for the needs of the own citizens. A bold attempt to reach into the pockets of exactly those people who anyway already did not profit from the hype around the Soccer World Championship. So people went on the streets to protest and it lead to photos of street battles in the world press.
Another Brazilian, Eike Batista, has for years now been on his way to the top of the list of the richest people on Earth. And within very short time, he lost a major portion of his assets. Rumors say around $34.5 billion have been lost. A personal tragedy, of course, but maybe it's just another example of how things are different in reality when they look really good at first glance in Brazil.
In the past, the words boom or hype where often found in the same sentence like Brazil. In the meantime, it seems one has to look at that a little more carefully. The surface is shiny and it looks great from the distance, but it's sizzling behind the facade and mainly the elites are well off and ensuring their continued wellbeing.
Over the course of the last 30 years, Paulo Coelho has sold more than 150 million books all over the world. Already his first best-seller, The Alchemist, was sold over 30 million times. Economically, he's set. Coelho doesn't need another pair of shoes and can easily allow himself to nurture his powerful network from his balcony in Geneva, either watching Lake Geneva or the Montblanc. He is likely one of the best known Brazilians of the world, for sure the most successful Brazilian writer. His huge following on social media, where millions of people from all over the world follow his daily messages, makes him one of the most influential authors of the present. And he's not shy to speak up and make his point clear.
Now, when he saw the list of authors representing Brazil at the Frankfurt Book fair, with him leading the group, Coelho said "no." Consequences? Don't matter!
In his opinion the selection of the Ministry of Culture excluded a majority of a vital and up-and-coming scene of young Brazilian writers from presenting themselves and their work to the world.
In an interview with the German daily newspaper Die Welt, Coelho said that he knows only about 20 of the elected 70 writers, and: "I doubt that all of them are professional writers."
And between the lines, it shows that he is upset about the promises of the Brazilian government from before the elections and about the contrast of those vis-a-vis the current reality. He had great hopes for that government, in many areas, but now he says, he'd "been blind for a long time, didn't want to believe that something is going wrong."
Big promises without delivering, cronyism or visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair with friends and friends of friends on public expense, while the people in his country lack even the basic necessities -- that doesn't fly with a man like Coelho. He can't be bought, he can't be used.
For many years, one of his most repeated credos is that one has to learn to say no, no matter how hard it is. And that's what he has told the Brazilian government: "No! That's not going to fly with me."
Seeing that from the sidelines, one wishes that not only Brazilian politicians would adopt his candor and attitude.
Follow Henry Freeman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hf