Book review: A manuscript best left in Accra

Let Coelho’s imagination take you on a historical journey in the Manuscript Found in Accra.

Farrukh Kamrani May 22, 2013
Let Coelho’s imagination take you on a historical journey in the Manuscript Found in Accra.

I often come across poorly composed and rhythmically imbalanced verses on Facebook. They are attributed to famous poets like Ghalib, Iqbal and Faraz. Whenever I see such posts, I make a point of setting the record straight. Most of the time, I am viewed as a troll and advised to appreciate the wisdom of the words rather than being critical of their form.

When I first started reading Paulo Coelho’s latest book Manuscript Found in Accra, I resolved to follow this advice. I can safely conclude that the book is full of worthy musings and quotable quotes on a variety of subjects — from solitude and love to beauty and miracles. Like all his other works, this recent book by Coelho also has its moments of glory when the earnestness, simplicity and clarity of its prose start touching your soul and transforming your thoughts.

Manuscript Found in Accra seems to echo the writings of Khalil Gibran and sometimes also Osho, the Indian mystic. In its style and form, the book appears to be a subdued imitation of the Dialogues of Plato, the gospels and, ironically their counterpart, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A book for All and None. However the merits of Accra do not redeem its obvious defects and contradictions. Coelho attempts to disguise his string of musings by blending historical facts with fiction. In this case, the titular manuscript is an ancient document written in 1099 by a 21-year-old man on the eve of the Crusaders’ invasion of Jerusalem. It recounts his dealings with a mysterious Greek man, referred to as the Copt, who counsels a group of men and women on their most pressing questions. The back-story serves little purpose, except for making Coelho’s thoughts sound like the knowledge of Jerusalem.

Coelho’s attempt to structure his thoughts by introducing a frail superstructure story seems to have failed. The Manuscript Found in Accra is essentially a book of quotable quotes with a message of self-reform rather than revolution.

Who do you think you are? Three picks on self discovery

1. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Recently retired Harold Fry is surprised by a letter from a dying friend, Queenie Hennessy, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. He becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie. So he sets off without hiking boots, rain gear, maps or even a cell phone. Available at The Last Word for Rs1,250 (Hardcover) and Rs695 (Paperback).

2. Into the Wild

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given his savings to charity, abandoned his car and invented a new life for himself. During his adventure, he encounters several unique people that change his life before he faces the dangers of the wilderness.

3. On the Road

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years travelling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady. The two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be ‘Beat’ and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than forty years ago.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 19th, 2013.

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Pakistani | 9 years ago | Reply

Paulo Coelho is a very good writer. I really like his book The Alchemist...

Shazia | 9 years ago | Reply

I am a fan of Paulo Coelho's work, however his latest work "The Manuscript of Accra" should have been left in Accra, as the author of the article suggests. The book is awfully boring, and at best can be described as a self help book for dummies. What could be said in 100 words is stretched anoyingly into a chapter. As for he subject matter, I believe Paulo has run out of stuff to write about. This book is repititive and there is nothing new in it. Instead of soul searching I was sleep searching.

I hope his next book is better.

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