The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho


AUTHOR- Paulo Coelho

ISBN – 978-0-00725744-7

GENRE- Fiction / Philosophy

SYNOPSIS- How do we find the courage to be true to ourselves- even if we are unsure of who we are?
      That is the central question posed by Paulo Coelho’s riveting work, The Witch of Portobello. It is the story of Athena, a mysterious young woman born in Romania, raised in Beirut and living in London. Her life is told by the many who knew her well- or hardly at all.

EXCERPT- ‘No one places her dreams in the hands of those who might destroy them. No one, that is, but Athena.’ – Heron Ryan, Journalist

Whoever drinks this water once can never quench her thirst at other springs.’ –Deidre O’Neill, known as Edda

In my world, and in the world of those I lived with, this (note: Vampires) was absurd, nonsensical, unacceptable.’ – Heron Ryan, Journalist  

Because God the Father is associated with the rigour and discipline of worship, whereas the Mother Goddess shows the importance of love above and beyond all the usual prohibitions and taboos.’ – Antoine Locadour, historian, ICP, France

My child, I’ve been excluded too. It’s a very long time since they’ve allowed me in there (note: The Church).’- Father Giancarlo Fontana imagining what Jesus might have said to Athena

KOUSTABH 'QUETZALCOATL' says- I start with a very controversial doubt I have in my mind for a long time. Why isn’t Paulo Coelho getting nominated for Nobel Prize for literature??

       Well leaving all that thoughts to the genius’ sitting in the Nobel selection committee, I would come back to the book. To be very frank this book isn’t the best work by Paulo Coelho. When you have read the Alchemist, Eleven Minutes or even Veronika Decides to die (an excellent review given on that by Pulkit), this story seems to pale in comparison. The reason, if you ask me, would be that the story line is too random (it getting sllllloooow somewhere and fast in other pages) and without much evolution. For those of you, who think that this is a book about magic and witch hunting, well its not!!

       It’s a story about an orphan girl Sherine Khalil who renames herself Athena (the Greek goddess of wisdom). One would ask WHY?? But answers are not provided in the mundane realm, you have to go beyond your everyday humdrum to understand this and the whole book, a process which Mr. Coelho masters in and makes him one of my favorite authors (though here it is dragged a bit more than what’s comfortable).

       The book starts after the death of Athena, and the author is trying to form an image of her out of recollections (reminds me of Márquez’s ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’, superbly reviewed by Arpita). But what raise it to a new pedestal are the innumerable characters pitching in their opinions, even those who barely knew her and even those who hated her. Her unending search for something (which one can interpret as desires, redemption, truth, and questions like who am I or anything else for that matter) is what fuels the storyline and makes her a memorable character. From wild dance and calligraphy to achieve peace, to her search for her true mother, to learning the religion of the Goddess and then teaching others to become one of the most controversial spiritual leader in London.

       A book for all those avid fans of Paulo Coelho, and also for those who wants to open their vista to anew horizon, this novel will pinch out a little bit of your time but in return, I can assure you, will provide many eye openers in this new era of questions and answers. As the editor wrote, “Like The Alchemist, this is a kind of story that will transform the way readers think about love, passion, joy and sacrifice.”

       Though it cannot be strictly compared to books like ‘The Alchemist’, yet it definitely deserves a chance to be read, if only for the sake of something diverse from regular fiction.

       I hope you all Keep reading and commenting!!  

My Rating – 3.3/ 5 stars

PRICE – INR 239 (Filpkart Price)


  1. "Why isn’t Paulo Coelho getting nominated for Nobel Prize for l literature??"

    Ha! The answer is very simple. Coelho is basically a motivational writer, and not a literary one.

  2. The mere fact stated by u that it complex and random in nature, makes me feel like it would make a great read for someone like me, who time and again is looking for impulsive provocations from reading in general :)

    I had read a few of Paulo's books, and he is a phenomenal storyteller. One of the best that this age has seen. I was reading By River Peidra I sat and wept, a few months back but had to leave it in between for some reason... I still find myself at times sitting and thinking about it... that is the power of a storyteller who directly influences a reader's mind.

  3. I do not like Coelho. And I do not know why. Except for 'The Alchemist' none of his other books made me smile.

    'Seven Minutes' actually made me sleep after seven minutes of going through it

  4. @FL - They are late starters bro :P

  5. this one starts off well and some portions make a great impression; but i could barely make head or tail of the plot. ur right- it's no where as good as veronica decides to die. good review. :)


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