In July 1099, the walled city of Jerusalem is said to have experienced religious peace and tolerance - Jews, Muslims and Christians worshipped without incident. But beyond the gates of the city, enemy crusaders sharpened their swords, readying to invade the populace and disturb the peace. The people were given a choice to either abandon the city or fight to the death. Most chose to stay.
In Manuscript Found in Accra, Paulo Coelho has written a transcription of a fictional Apocryphal Gospel (not included in any holy religious book), documenting what one prophet, a Greek named Copt, revealed to multitudes on the night before the attack that transformed peace into a war that Copt predicted "will last into an unimaginably distant future."
One wonders why the people gathered to listen to Copt? After all, the manuscript reveals that Copt worked as a shoemaker and did not belong to any one religious sect. What encouraged the inhabitants to defer from making provisions and feeding their anxiety and preoccupation in the face of death and forced exodus to stop and listen? Were the masses who hunkered down simply looking for a way to allay their fears and deepen their faith?
By choosing to leave missing pieces and unanswered questions, Coelho lends greater authenticity to the form and tenor of this novel-turned-gospel-narrative. In Coelho's literary hands, one questions the role of coincidence. Is Copt's name a coincidence or a relation to Coptic Christians? And what about the setting--the square where Pontius Pilate and the crowds condemned Jesus Christ to death? Here, Copt makes his philosophical declarations on a myriad of issues including knowledge, death, work, miracles, loyalty and the future and encourages listeners to write down his words in order to "preserve the soul of Jerusalem" as he believes that peace will one day reign in the region again.
Fitting, too, that Coelho chose not to support this novel with a traditional literary plot, outside of the introduction that briefly details the long, circuitous route the manuscript takes until discovered. Instead, Coelho's parable-like structure and historical presentation heighten the relevance of wisdom shared a thousand years ago to people in peril. Read in the context of modern society--with its wars, terror, divisiveness and decadence--Manuscript Found in Accra points up how the world has continued to be invaded by "demons of intolerance and lack of understanding" for centuries and yet, amid adversity, there still remains the hope that tenets of love and faith can endure, if consciously cultivated.
Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho (Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa)
Alfred A. Knopf, $22.00, Hardcover, 9780385349833, 208 pp
Publication Date: April 3, 2013