Book Review: The Spy, by Paulo Coelho

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_spyThe Spy is written by prolific author Paulo Coelho. It is in some ways a re-imagining of the life of Mata Hari, using news reports and letters between Mata and her lawyer. Voiced as though Mata is narrating her own life, we are privy to her thoughts as the events of her life play out.

The story is mostly told from the perspective of Mata – and as such I think it may have partially lost its way. Paulo Coelho presents her life and thoughts using the fiction of her being ‘out of her time.’ The tag line for the book is “Her only crime was to be an independent woman.” It is in some ways a challenging read, as the reader is required to use that basis as the motivations of the character. Mata is presented as a sexually liberated dancer and prostitute, who is somewhat ahead of her time. This leads to her later conviction for spying. It seems to overlook some of the realities of her life – a young, abusive marriage, being forced to abandon her children and then having to support herself in Europe as it moved towards war. I couldn’t decide if this was an intriguing example of the ‘unreliable narrator’ – the character trying to portray herself in the best possible way. Is this genuinely how the author saw her story? Quite an intrigue.

Like similar books in this genre, it is a very easy to read overview of a particular period in history. Mata’s interactions made me quite reflective about what people do in difficult situations. What would you do to survive during wartime? What wouldn’t you do?

Mata’s internal voice is very flowery and somewhat poetic – there are some beautifully written passages such as “I was an exotic bird traversing an earth ravage by humanity’s poverty of spirit” and it concludes, sadly with “I am the nightingale who gave everything and died while doing so.”

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Spy
Paulo Coelho
Published by Penguin
ISBN: 9780143783404

Book review: Manuscript found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

cv_manuscript_found_in_accraThis book is in bookstores now

I am not familiar with Paul Ceolho as an author nor have I read any of his books, but I remember when The Alchemist was released and vaguely remember reading reviews of it at the time.

Once I got into this book I found myself comparing it to The Prophet by Kahil Gibran and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I dug around and found my copies of these books to do a proper comparison. While the thoughts are similar, that’s where the similarity ends.Manuscript found in Accra is in the guise of a novel, whereas the other two are just a series of either quotes from other people or ones philosophy on life.

I am not a great fan of this type of genre, but found it easy reading – I whipped through it in a couple of hours. Being in my 60’s this book might have been helpful perhaps in my teens to my forties, but now having the wisdom of age and grey hair to prove it, I didn’t find it particularly enlightening.

On opening this book, the first chapter is titled “Preface and Greeting”. This chapter tells of a manuscript being discovered in December 1945 by two brothers who were looking for a place to rest, and how they found an urn full of papyrus’s in a cave in the region of Hamra Dom, in Upper Egypt. This chapter then goes on to tell the story of how this manuscript wasn’t turned over to the appropriate authorities but sold at an antiquities market. The story then goes on to tell of how the manuscript changes hands and ends up in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, where they are supposedly to this day. The Greek translations in the manuscripts are transcribed and so the discovery of The Copt and his teachings become known to the world.

On 14 July 1099 Jerusalem is awaiting the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. An unknown Greek man, who became known as The Copt, stood before the citizens of the city of Jerusalem inviting them to share their fears and worries. In return he offered hope and tried to allay their fears with truth.

We read of his insights on subjects as diverse as finding love, our fears in life, looking inwards instead of outwards and what direction our life is taking, to name just a few.

This is a very personal book and while I was not enamoured with it there are probably Paulo Coelho fans that would crawl over broken glass to read his latest offerings. To those fans – enjoy.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Manuscript found in Accra
by Paulo Coelho
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780732297725