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Reviewed by Marcus Hammond
Much of Paulo Coelho’s writing can be categorized as metaphysical. Metaphysics, in essence, is a study of how one uses broad concepts to help define reality and our experiences within that reality. In Manuscript Found in Accra, Coelho uses a similar structure to that of Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet to provide insight into how we should experience topics like love, friendship, regret, loss, and family. Coelho loosely employs a fictional situation where a group of Jews, Christians, and Muslims gathers around a wise man, referred to as the Copt, to hear his words of wisdom prior to an attack by crusaders on Jerusalem. Through this narrative frame the diverse group of onlookers pose many existential questions that the Copt answers so that they can face the ensuing battle with peace in their hearts.
At one point, a young boy confesses that he feels useless. The Copt replies by explaining that uselessness occurs when a person tries to be something that they are not, in essence, lying to themselves and those around them about their identity. I found the passage relevant and inspiring because the world is full of problems that I fantasize about fixing yet feel powerless to do anything about. Coelho writes that everyone is useful in their own way as long as they stay true to themselves. As a teacher, I apply this lesson to the daily frustrations I feel when it seems impossible to reach my students. If I can’t reach every single student I do not become useless; I simply have to work within what is physically and mentally possible for my skills and position.
There are many relevant, inspirational moments in the book that I found myself pondering, however, the dialogue format does become a problem. Readers may find the Copt’s responses to be preachy and rambling if they don’t feel for a particular discussion topic. The close structure and style that Manuscript Found in Accra shares with Gibran’s The Prophet may also dissuade those looking for a more original offering.
Coelho imparts that life can be difficult, but by challenging ourselves, treating others well, and living by our own expectations, we can find peace and happiness. While every section of dialogue may not contain a universal lesson Coelho does try to cover topics that, at some point, we will all experience. Thus, Manuscript Found in Accra has the ability to inspire readers to reassess their experiences and improve themselves.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Knopf. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.