‘Maktub’ book review: Self before help

‘Maktub’ book review: Self before help

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has sold more copies of his books than he has followers on Facebook: 320 million versus 30 million. Perhaps because he encourages readers to pirate his books, and sometimes even uploads his work online. Readers say he has changed their lives, touched their souls, and helped them find happiness. So much so that his reach is way ahead of contemporary self-help superstars such as Jay Shetty, Tim Ferriss and Ali Abdaal. But Coelho is more than just a self-help guru. He is a novelist, creating flesh-and-blood characters, plot arcs and denouements that provide closure to the reader. The fictional cladding that he drapes around his inspirational messages is often the key ingredient in making them palatable.

Maktub, however, veers away from this format. First published in Portuguese in 1994 as a compilation of his columns for a Brazilian newspaper, it is now accessible to English readers in a new translation by Margaret Jull Costa. The compendium is marketed as an “essential companion” to The Alchemist and comprises parables that offer “an illuminated path to see life and the lives of our fellow people around the world in new ways”.

The Arabic title means destiny; the literal translation would be “it is written”. Striving towards one’s destiny is a recurring theme in Coelho’s books, although fate is not some preordained eventuality for him. He writes in a parable in Maktub, “Life is like the walls of a mountain and fate is the cry of every person. Whatever we do will be carried up to God’s heart and returned to us in kind. God acts as the echo of our actions.”

The book offers tips and insights to overcome everyday problems. To stop negative thinking, it suggests turning thoughts into physical pain by say, pressing the index fingernail into the thumb. To correct bad habits, it recommends making them deliberative. A man who couldn’t resist sucking his thumb was told by his therapist to suck a different finger every day, which led to him forsaking the habit.

Coelho says the collection is “not a book of advice but an exchange of experiences”. The purported experiences, however, are only a flimsy cloak for self-help platitudes. The thing with the genre is that it either works for you or it doesn’t. What may be stupidly obvious for one may unlock new doors of consciousness for another. For those who have read his other works, Maktub is old inspiration in a new bottle. It is also a lost opportunity. Coelho has helped hundreds of millions of readers self-reflect over the pat four decades. One only wishes he had practised what he preached before repeating himself in this edition of Maktub.

Maktub

By: Paulo Coelho

Publisher: Thorsons

Pages: 224

Price: Rs 499

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