An Empty Vessel

Now, the thing about Paulo Coelho’s books.

By Mary Paulose

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Published: Sat 20 Jul 2013, 12:21 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:28 AM

There’s his unique brand of pop wisdom and spiritual enlightenment, mostly corny but never boring, and ardently aspired to by his 
millions of fans around the globe. So however much you openly mock the Brazilian author — arguably the most popular in the world today — as too lowbrow for your tastes, you can’t help but sneak a read at his prodigiously prolific bestsellers.

His latest Manuscript Found In Accra promised to be one such satisfying, if dim, reading experience. Turns out, it’s full of clichés but not even entertainingly so. The premise is that the story unfolds in an ancient set of scrolls — the famous Nag Hammadi ones — found in Egypt, about the ancient city of Accra that is set for an invasion. Its citizens, overcome by trepidation, gather together to listen to the words of one of its inhabitants, a wise man known only as the Copt. Overnight, he dispenses pearls of wisdom on many 
topics: life, love, facing challenges and the importance of not giving up in the face of life’s hurdles. In reality? Coelho was appa-rently inspired to write this book after collecting ideas from his millions of Twitter followers.

It’s no surprise since the quality of advice doled out is really no better than the average 140-character bytes your average social media addict spews out in the belief that their P.O.V. is somehow special in the white noise that is the Internet.

Sample these: “Do one thing: Live the life you always wanted to live. Avoid criticising others and concentrate on fulfilling your dreams”; “Take pride in your scars. Scars are medals branded on the flesh…”; “Love transforms, Love heals. But sometimes it lays deadly traps and ends up destroying the person who decided to surrender himself completely… Life is too short for us to keep important words like ‘I love you’ locked in our hearts.” Really, for quotable quotes of such vapid variety, you could just look up a colourful Pinterest quote board or again, the microblogging site that started it all — Twitter.

The few redeeming portions are where Coelho writes about “inner beauty” not mattering over the outer (“Because nature longs for beauty, and is satisfied only when beauty can be exalted”) and the importance of solitude in our lives, even if you want to argue against these points.

In the end, for all the sage insights in the book, there is none that you take away with you. This is Coelho’s handbook on how to live the perfect life, but that’s only relevant in a perfect world full of perfect people.

The Manuscript… is reminiscent of Kahlil Gibran’s iconic The Prophet, dispelling words of wisdom apt to different life situations, split chapter-wise. But 
that’s where the comparison ends. Gibran’s prose-poetry of shining brilliance is rem-embered as one of the greatest works of all-time; Coelho’s will be lucky if you ever recall it after thumbing through it on a bus ride. Ironically, for a book profuse with utterances, there’s nothing much to say about it.

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