Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Witch of Portobello

The Witch of Portobello
Author: Paulo Coelho
Harper Perennial, 2007
268 pages

Paulo Coelho is an internationally-acclaimed, bestselling author from Brazil. I first heard of him a couple of years ago when I saw his book The Alchemist on sale at Borders. I bought The Alchemist, but haven't read it yet . . . it sits in a pile of unread books back in Indy. I bought The Witch of Portobello on Amazon.com.uk and had it delivered to my home in Vienna. When I was packing for my trip to South America, I thought: "Wouldn't it be nice to take along a book that has some connection to that continent?" I looked around and my eyes landed on The Witch of Portobello, so I brought it with me. I started reading it in Buenos Aires this weekend.

The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks by various people who are telling the life story of a woman who - by all accounts - is now dead. The woman, who called herself "Athena" after the Greek goddess of wisdom, was born in Romania, adopted by Christian parents from Lebanon, and raised in London. She's always been just a bit different. As a teenager, for example, she was strongly attracted to the idea of becoming a saint.

Over time, Athena evolves into sort of a guru and advocate for "God the Mother."  She's the kind of woman that The Establishment loves to hate because she inspires others to think differently, therefore threatening the status quo. But is she sincere, or just another religious megalomaniac? As the tale is told through the flashbacks, we encounter thoughts about love, freedom, and the divine feminine. There's a lot of philosophy in The Witch of Portobello, and apparently this is a common theme in other Coelho books.

It's a quick read, thought-provoking, and has a surprise ending that didn't quite sit well with me. 

Rating: 3.75 stars - a tidier ending might have earned an even 4 stars.

Now I'm freaking out because it's only Tuesday and I'm out of English language reading materials. Here's hoping I can find a bookstore in Argentina or Brazil where I can get something to read for the rest of this trip.