Coelho’s books suffer from an overgeneralizing of philosophies and the deliberate negligence of context and unique life experiences of people.
Paulo Coelho’s books are often intended to be uplifting, transcendental experiences taking the form of stories. Unfortunately, this often leads to a dull reading experience where issues that could be examined indepth are only rushed through with an illusive and poetic elegance. Coelho’s books suffer from an overgeneralizing of philosophies and the deliberate negligence of context and unique life experiences of people. ‘Manuscript Found in Accra’ is no different and more disappointing is the fact that the book feels like neither a novel nor a volume of poetry, but rather a catalog of cliche bits of wisdom that could easily be found in many religious texts and songs.
The book opens by contextualizing the ‘manuscript’ as being part of the Apycrophal Gospels; papyruses that were discovered in 1945 by two brothers, in a cave in Egypt. The premise is promising but Coelho then moves from the historical context to the fictional one where he imagines meeting the son of an English archeologist who discovered another manuscript. The narrator then proceeds, supposedly, to transcribe the manuscript. The manuscript is said to have been written in 1099 by a 21-year-old man a day before Jerusalem was invaded by the crusaders. The manuscript tells the story of a wise Greek man, referred to as the Copt, who helps ease the anxiety of the people of Jerusalem by answering their questions about life’s many experiences like defeat, the search for meaning and later, things like sex and beauty.
Coelho begins the story well but the proceeding chapters quickly take form of a poetic Q&A where the Copt offers the people insights into a life well lived. The Copt in seeking to challenge popular public opinion, contradicts himself on many accounts. For example on beauty, he states that outward beauty matters and is not to be dismissed as superficial and then proceeds to say that all idea of beauty and ugliness is subjective, that all creation is inherently beautiful. There is indeed some truth in the words of the Copt, but they are of too simplistic a nature and offer no real value to the crowd who seek to understand the purpose of beauty. In wanting to settle all unrest, the Copt eliminates the necessary duality that is beauty and ugliness.
The historical context in which the story is set was a significant period during the crusades that knew a lot of suffering and pain. To wrap such a time in the overly positive tone of the Copt is to do it no justice and to make vapid the content of the book. Coelho, to be fair, might be seeking to paint a resilient picture of the people of Jerusalem who are prepared to fight till their end but I would have liked to read an account of the troubling times that were to follow, a story that would have been fit for a novel.
‘Manuscript from Accra’ to be frank is not a novel but a collection of quotes from various sources which the author forgets to cite and a prose that paints an image too rosy to be a replica of reality.
Mutsinzi is majoring in Computer Science. He likes reading, listening to music and creating.