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The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

The Witch of Portobello (original 2006; edition 2008)

by Paulo Coelho

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2,495572,451 (3.29)74
Title:The Witch of Portobello
Authors:Paulo Coelho
Info:Harper Perennial (2008), Paperback, 312 stránok
Collections:Your library

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The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho (2006)

  1. 00
    The Zahir by Paulo Coelho (leosabana)
    leosabana: Tiene frases realmente hermosas, que te ayudarán en el día a día; que te aportarán ánimos cuando no veas luz.

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English (49)  Spanish (4)  Portuguese (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
I think the author meant for this novel to be one of those big, important, spiritual books that changes the lives of the readers. Sadly, it doesn’t.

It had the potential; a young woman gets in touch with her spiritual self and starts channeling the goddess Hagia Sophia. The back of the book says, in part, that the story will “transform the way readers think about love, passion, joy and sacrifice”. But it misses the mark.

The Witch, Sherine Khalil (who takes the name Athena), is born to and abandoned by a Gypsy woman. She is then adopted by Christian parents in the Middle East, and eventually brought up partly in England. She gets jobs easily in spite of not being trained for them (including one that makes her very well off). She marries and has a child, then divorces the man. The church won’t allow her to take Holy Communion after her divorce, so she takes up her own spirituality. She stumbles into a group that seeks enlightenment through unrhythmic dance. She develops followers, everyone loves her, even a woman whose lover falls in love with Athena… and she values none of it except the child. She gives up pretty much everything, but it’s not sacrifice if she doesn’t value what she gives up- and it turns out in the end that she doesn’t give up as much as we think. I never get the feeling that she feels passion about much of anything. She just sort of wanders through life. She’s not afraid to try new things, and I admired that, but for the most part I just couldn’t understand her.

The story is told through “interviews” with the various people in her life- her birth mother, her adoptive parents, her ex-husband, the journalist who falls in love with her, everyone who has been around at the important events of her life. This may be part of the problem with the book; we never get to know
Athena’s thoughts and feelings directly. In a way, it made me think of the structure of the New Testament- we read a lot about Jesus but we never hear from him directly. Perhaps the author intended to make Athena the daughter of the great Goddess. But if she is, she’s a very stand off-ish deity.

Coelho is one of those authors that I had heard great things about and so I was quite disappointed. I may still try reading ‘The Alchemist” since that’s supposed to be his best work, but can only give this book three stars. ( )
  dark_phoenix54 | Jan 5, 2015 |
När jag läste denna bok för flera år sedan så tänkte jag att jag hade aldrig läst något liknande någonsin. Både skrift och innehåll var för mig något helt nytt. Bara måste läsas. ( )
  annie.orstrom | Sep 11, 2014 |
Not Coelho's best, but interesting enough :) ( )
  pathogenik | Mar 2, 2014 |
I have been wanting to read a Paulo Coelho novel for some time. For one reason or the other I keep missing the opportunity to do so. All of his books look to be very interesting and I am absolutely open to hearing from anyone who has a favorite that I should give a try to. Perhaps that is why I am left with somewhat a mix sensation when it comes to The Witch Of Portobello. The prose and format of the novel are wonderful and strangely enough, it is the characters that I found so dislikable.

"...I did. A new witch hunt is starting to gain ground. This time the weapon isn't the red-hot iron, but irony and repression..."

The Witch of Portobello was born a Romanian orphan of dubious descent. She was adopted by a well to do Beirut couple to be the daughter nature had denied them. They named her Sherine Khalil but the world would come to know her as Athena. As a child, Athena soon finds that she can see and feel the world around her differently than other children. She was prone to vague premonitions that seemed to come true. Her parents keep this secret and as she grows up they send her to an elite school, hoping the education will shape her. She becomes very spiritual and comes to believe that God wants her to have a child and become a mother, to replace the mother that had abandoned her. She convinces her boyfriend to marry against his and her families wishes. But that soon dissolves and at a young age she finds herself a divorced mother. What she was not prepared for was how this decision would impact her relationship with her church.

"...I like to imagine that, when she left the church, Athena met Jesus. Weeping and confused, she would have thrown herself into his arms, asking him to explain why she was being excluded just because of a piece of paper she'd signed, something of no importance on the spiritual plane, and which was of interest only to registry offices and the tax man.
And looking at Athena, Jesus might have replied: "My child, I've been excluded too. It's a very long time since they've allowed me in there..."

It is this exclusion that leads Athena on a quest. This exclusion from the church she holds so dear. A quest to fulfill her life and spirit. She finds that she reaches another level of consciousness when she dances. She begins to teach this dance to others but they do not feel all she feels. Yet she is still not satisfied. She searches for other spiritual people and learns from them. One thing she learns is that it is the blank spaces in her life that haunt her and the largest of these is the mother who abandoned her. What she finds is that she comes from a line of mystical women. Gypsies who have lived in Romania for centuries.

"...On the other hand, they think that by giving us some tricksy name, like "travelers" or "Roma," they can put right the many wrongs they've done us in the past.
Why can't they just call us gypsies and put an end to all the stories that make us look as if we were cursed in the eyes of the world..."

Here, by her mother's side, Athena is taught to tap into the spiritual awakening within her and it is this new spirituality that she brings home. A spirituality that is infectious and threatening to the religions that are entrenched in her town. Of her followers she asks a great deal and nothing at the same time. They find her vagueness wise.

"...Simply being in her presence seemed to justify my very existence. Was that what she wanted to hear? Fine, I'd tell her over supper. I'd be capable of doing almost anything, even leaving the woman I was living with, but I drew the line, of course, at giving away my books..."

Athena and the established powers come to a head in violence and the threat of losing her child from neglect. In finale, Athena is no more.

The Witch of Portobello is a powerful novel of the growth and individuality of one person's spiritual ascension. For Athena, after her church cast her out, she found that in a Mother Earth religion of her own making. For many this may be a novel of a woman's right to choose her own life and the direction it takes. Shedding away the conventional and the bonds that society would have her labeled to be. I can see that.
But for me I found the character of Athena, not to be strong and independent but instead, selfish and petulant. Several times through the course of the book, when challenges arose and things did not go easily her way; Athena reacted in a violent and angry manner. Often cursing those who would teach her and guide her along the way. Too often, she was less the spiritual Witch of Portobello and instead the spoiled little rich orphan child she had been raised to be. Those who told the tale along side of her made constant excuses for her behavior and blamed the world around her.
There was the consistent abandonment of her child as she went off on her quest, or worse dragging him along as she searched only for her own needs.

The Witch of Portobello is incredibly well written and I enjoyed the chapters being broken up and narrated by different characters in the book. The tone and tenor of the story being changed from chapter to chapter dependent upon the point of the view of the character telling it.
I just found them so dislikable in their selfishness and blindness. There is so little growth in them. The opportunities for each of them to have found a special place for themselves on a spiritual plane was spoiled by their inability to see beyond themselves.
I would still like to read Paulo Coelho. I found his writing and prose to be very enjoyable. Hopefully there is a character of his that will be to my liking. ( )
  agarcia85257 | Feb 27, 2014 |
Paulo's books just do something to me. Inspiring, entertaining and at times challenging, this book (as most of his do) caused me to see love in a different way. It's something I look forward to in each of his books, and it always happens at some point. Good stuff. ( )
  davadog13 | Nov 21, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (72 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paulo Coelhoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Janssen, PietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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O Mary conceived without sin,
pray for those who turn to you.


No man, when he hath lighted a candle,
putteth it in a secret place,
neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick,
that they which come in may see the light.

--Luke 11:33
Dla S. F. X. - słońca, które rozsiało światłość i ciepło wszędzie, gdzie zawitało; wzoru dla tych, którzy sięgają myślą poza swoje horyzonty.

For S.F.X.,

a sun who spread light and
warmth wherever he went,
and was an example to all those
who think beyond their horizons
First words
No one lights a lamp in order to hide it behind the door: the purpose of light is to create more light, to open people's eyes, to reveal the marvels around.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061338818, Paperback)

How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of who we are?

That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coelho's profound new work, The Witch of Portobello. It is the story of a mysterious woman named Athena, told by the many who knew her well—or hardly at all. Like The Alchemist, The Witch of Portobello is the kind of story that will transform the way readers think about love, passion, joy, and sacrifice.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Traces the life of Athena, an abandoned daughter of a Transylvania gypsy, in a tale told from the viewpoints of such characters as her adoptive journalist mother, a teacher of calligraphy, and an actress.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 13 descriptions

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