Paulo Coelho is one of my favourite authors. The intriguing mesh of his eccentric and traumatic life story, his determination to live out the dream of becoming a writer that his parents originally forbade, the simplicity of his usually profound story-telling and his unapologetic, weighty views on all life subject matter; combine to create an author who resonates internationally with millions of hearts and minds.
Having said that I confess to not having completed perhaps two of his books, predominantly due to the fact that I purchased them in their mother tongue, and at the time I spoke a somewhat rusty ‘Engluese’ or ‘Portuglish’, which is occasionally still the case, depending on which time of the year you speak to me. The poetic twists of his advanced and native Brazilian Portuguese were sometimes a tad too chunky for me to ingest, and I soon tired of reaching for the dictionary.
I have just read ‘Manuscript found in Accra’ which I recently highly recommended on Twitter, having read just a third of it at the time, tut tut. While I still say go and read it, my view of it became slightly less enthusiastic as I went past the halfway mark, so I am partly retracting the enthusiasm of my premature recommendation.
I am taken both by the element of surprise, confusion and of contemplation that some of his books afford, in my experience at least. I began to read it read full of beans and inspired by many of the sentences, though in proceeding, I found myself waiting for it to change tempo, or for something else to happen. I wonder why I had these expectations considering I know his books offer such a variety of themes and styles of story?
Though it contains his trademark use of language to tell a story (albeit with the added grace of his brilliant translator) it contains something unlike his other books that I was not expecting. I recall how many were equally surprised by the unexpected ‘Eleven minutes’ which created quite some controversy for those accustomed to his spiritual, feel-good writing. Were they surprised that the topic of sex and the way in which he so openly wrote about it, could possibly be included in the realm of spirituality? Or had they perhaps developed a ‘holier than thou’ image of the author?
I now both like and dislike ‘Manuscript found in Accra’ depending on which section you ask me about, and yes it is that grey for me. Overall it reads almost like passages from a modern bible or other religious text, and the views and ideas contained are neither new nor ground-breaking, which they don’t have to be of course, but because he has in the past written both groundbreaking and beautiful stories, some of this occasionally sounded slightly rehashed. On the more positive side, some of it also reads like poetry in the way it is told, I recall reaching a section in the book based on the topic of ‘elegance’ and feeling suddenly inspired to write a poem. I found some gems in mere one line sentences; such is his natural flair and experience as a writer. If you are a lover of the archaeology of language and a fan of the author; I’m sure you will dig out the diamonds in this book.
It’s based on the premise that some old papyruses dating back to the first century BC to AD 180, were found in a cave in Egypt by two brothers in 1945. The preface goes on to explain the papyruses’ journey into many hands including the Carl Jung Institute in 1951, and eventually into the hands of an English Archaeologist circa 1974. Paulo Coelho ends the preface by explaining how he came to receive the translated manuscript of the papyruses in 2011, which he apparently transcribes in the book.
I was initially confused; is this fiction or a transcribed manuscript? On researching I found a couple of blogs reviewing the book, one explaining that it’s part-based on historical fact which he has expanded on and another claiming complete pop-fiction. As a reader of his books, I will make a sweeping assumption that it’s fiction, based on an idea he may have had after reading or hearing of something to do with old papyruses, and that he has used the main character of the book, ‘The Copt’ who comes across as something of a Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed character, as a vessel to express his own views on life. If anyone has the the facts please do correct me, I’d love to know.
Each chapter begins with a question asked by a member of the crowd gathered around The Copt, who are about to go to war and face life or death the next morning, and he answers their questions with his worldly, comforting and spiritual views on topics such as fear, loyalty, defeat and elegance.
While I was a little disappointed that there was not more of a story to it as I was expecting; I am always a seeker of the good in something and I enjoyed the overall experience of reading it and finding the quotes in it that resonated with me the most.
Just to play devil’s advocate and to be a little eccentric myself, I will leave you with one of the reviews I came across. It’s a negative review and in no way an attempt to put anyone off reading it; it certainly hasn’t swayed me as a fan, and those who are true fans and have a mind of their own will read it if they want to I have no doubt. However, I found this quite hilarious and if you have a sense of humour and enjoy wittily written articles, take a look.
Sorry, Paulo Coelho.