Shortly after, Paulo Coelho reappeared on the bookstore shelves with a short novel called The Alchemist (El Alquemista, 1988). The protagonist of the story is a shepherd who, following his dreams, leaves Andalusia and goes to the wild desert.
Written in only fifteen days, The Alchemist immediately became one of the most successful books of the Portuguese literature. It was translated in numerous languages (actually, there are over 55 translations in different languages) and, for many weeks, broke all the records for continuous presence on the lists of best-selling books in Brazil, France, Italy and Israel. In Spain, the book raised so much interest that, in the ten years after it was published, it had almost reached its fiftieth edition. Moreover, from 1988 to 1998, the book sold about ten million copies around the world.
Literary critics universally appreciated not only the quality of The Alchemist, but also the surprising fact that Coelho had suddenly become the South-American writer with the most books sold worldwide (being second after Gabriel García Márquez). They didn’t hesitate to praise this little book to the point of placing it at the same level with other masterpieces of the genre, like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.
Actually, the impact of The Alchemist was so strong that in 1994 it was named “The Book of the Year” by the American Library Association, and in May 1996 it reached the finals of the prestigious Flaiano Prizes for literature. A few days later, on June 2, 1996, the author was bestowed the Grinzane Cavour Prize, one of the most important international awards in contemporary times. Additionally, in April of the same year, Paulo Coelho had been presented with the Knight badge of the French “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (Order of Arts and Letters).