An ancient manuscript from Accra (a city off Egypt) emerges. Dated July 14, 1099, it depicted events that took place during the time of the First Crusades, when French Christian invaders laid seige to the holy city of Jerusalem.
While the city prepared itself for the invasion of the Christian army surrounding its gates, a group of men and women of every age and faith gather. Jews, Muslims and Christians, they huddle to hear the words of a Greek spiritual philosopher known as the Copt, a wise sage whose words uncover the deep mysteries of life.
With its eclectic mix of spirituality, philosophy and poetry, Manuscript Found in Accra is acclaimed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s attempt at writing his own self-help fable. Unlike conventional novels, the book comprises a series of life questions posed by the inhabitants of Jerusalem which are answered by the Copt. These cover timeless topics like defeat, struggle, love, anxiety, beauty, sex, work and loyalty.
Allow me now to highlight some of the more memorable sections.
In the words of the Copt – and Coelho I suppose – defeat is part of a cycle. It is clearly differentiated from its more nefarious cousin failure. Quoting from the book…
“Defeat means that we lose a particular battle or war. Failure does not allow us to go on fighting…. Defeat ends when we launch into another battle. Failure has no end: it is a lifetime choice.”
Loneliness is not curse but a blessing. In fact, solitude is “not the absence of company, but the moment when our soul is free to speak to us and help us decide what to do with our life.”
It is only when we embrace the void of solitude that we’re able to discover the “vast world” that lies “hidden in our soul”. This can be seen in the work of artists: “…in order for his work to be really good, he needs to be still and hear only the language of the angels.”
I love how Coelho uses the metaphor of nature to show that even the mountains and trees change – albeit on a different timescale. While the road to change may be full of trepidation, we’re encouraged to be “travellers”.
“And to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine; that kills you far more quickly.”
Here, an ageless concept is given a fresh twist. We’re told that love sometimes “lays deadly traps and ends up destroying the person who decided to surrender himself completely.” Moreover, it is “an act of faith, not an exchange.”
We’re also implored to consider that our “great goal in life is to love“, and that we need to love, “…Even when it leads us to where the lakes are made of tears”.
Finally, “love is only a word, until someone arrives to give it meaning.” Indeed!
Contrasted with arrogance, which “believes that intelligence is only for the chosen few”, elegance is perceived to be simple, coherent, and well-mannered. Elegance lies “not in the clothes we wear, but in the way we wear them”.
More profoundly, “elegance is accepted and admired because it makes no effort to be elegant”. If you think about the coolest, most successful and admired icons on planet Earth (like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mother Teresa perhaps?), you can certainly empathise with Coelho’s view.
The chapter which hits closest to home is the one on anxiety. Contrary to popular belief, Coelho teaches us that there is nothing wrong with anxiety. In fact, it is part of the human condition to “want to receive the thing we are waiting for as quickly as possible”.
To prevent anxiety from snowballing into something more vicious, however, we should counter it with our own aphorisms. For instance, we should say we’re “not worried about tomorrow, because God is there already, waiting for me.”
Naturally, Manuscript Found in Accra isn’t for everybody. Those who yearn for a traditional story may be sorely disappointed. While certain sayings were a little obtuse, I personally found the book enlightening and enriching, with many of its life philosophies worth revisiting again and again.
Let me end with one of my favourite quotes from the many in the book:
“Don’t try to be useful. Try to be yourself: that is enough, and that makes all the difference.”