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Brazilian Author Paulo Coelho Targets U.S. Readers

Detail of the cover of Coelho's <i>Eleven Minutes</i>, one of the world's best-selling books in 2003.
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Detail of the cover of Coelho's Eleven Minutes, one of the world's best-selling books in 2003.

Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is a household name in most parts of the world. His new novel, Eleven Minutes, was a global best seller last year -- everywhere but in the United States. According to Coelho's publishers, his books have sold 50 million copies in 150 countries -- sales figures comparable to those of John Grisham and J.K. Rowling.

But the Coelho phenomenon seems to stop at the shores of the American literary market, which remains stubbornly indifferent to foreign best sellers. Coelho's breakout book, The Alchemist, did sell well in the United States 10 years ago, but since then he hasn't had a big hit in America. John Baker, editorial director at Publisher's Weekly, says America is daunting for any foreign-language writer.

"The American publishing market is very broad and very shallow," Baker tells NPR's Martin Kaste. "They don't read all that much and are satisfied with what they get at home."

Baker says some French and German top sellers aren't even translated for U.S. readers because there's little point. Coelho, however, remains undaunted. He says he's determined to crack the U.S. market, and cites the past success of The Alchemist.

" Madonna spoke about the book, and President Clinton was photographed reading [it]," Coehlo says. " …I think it's a matter of time."

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Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.