The Witch of Portobello
First US Edition Published in 2007
|Original title||A Bruxa de Portobello|
|Translator||Margaret Jull Costa|
|Cover artist||Jennifer Ann Daddio|
|Language||Portuguese (translated to English by Margaret Jull Costa)|
|Publisher||Harper Collins Publishers, 1st US Edition (2007).|
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
|LC Class||PQ9698.13.O3456 B7813 2007|
|Preceded by||Like the Flowing River|
The Witch of Portobello (Portuguese: A Bruxa de Portobello) is a fiction work by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho published in 2007, about a woman born in Transylvania to a Romani mother in a gypsy tribe without wedlock. The central character is abandoned by her birth mother because the father was a foreigner (gadje) and later adopted by a wealthy Lebanese couple.
It starts with the death of the main character, Sherine Khalil or Athena as she likes to call herself, and is represented as a form of biography in narrative format. It contains short chapters which include the points of view of the people who knew her well– a journalist who fell in love with her, an actress who was her disciple and had a love- hate relationship with her, a doctor who was also her protector and teacher, a numerologist who did not know her personally, her adoptive mother, her ex-husband, a priest who was once her only friend, her landlord, a manager of bank for which she initially worked as a clerk, a teacher of calligraphy, a gipsy restaurant owner who takes her to her real mother, her real mother, and a historian. The author decided to transcribe what these people told him because he didn't want to impose his own opinions on the reader. Each one of them provides a different view of her, describing not only what they saw and experienced but adding their own impressions, interpreting her through their own beliefs and fears..
In this book, Coelho works with the return to the goddess religion, the interpretation of love, and the feminine part of the Divine within the theme of searching for one’s true self and opening to the energies of the world. The question central to the story is "How do we find the courage to be true to ourselves - even if we are unsure of who we are?"
The work also expounds a selection of philosophies, which bear a certain degree of similarity to Coelho's teachings from previous novels and carry the characteristic imprint of his own ideas, as well as a citation regarding the ephemeral nature of desires, which appears in most of Coelho's novels.
The writer elucidates the opinion that the Church has deviated by its stringent rules to the point where it no longer serves Jesus Christ, or as put in his words in one of the interviews: "It's a very long time since they've allowed me in there [the Church]".
As the book begins, Athena is dead. How she ended up that way creates the intrigue sustaining the book. The child, Sherine Khalil renames herself Athena after her uncle was discussing with her mother on how her real name will betray her origins and something like Athena gave nothing away. As a child, she shows a strong religious vocation and reports seeing angels and saints, which both impresses and worries her parents.
She goes into a London University to pursue Engineering at the age of 19 but it's not what her heart wanted. One day she just decides that she wanted to drop out of college, get married and have a baby. Here, the author mentions that this might be due to the fact that she was abandoned herself and wants to give all that love she could to her child which she didn't receive from her birth mother. Two years later, her marriage falls apart because they are facing too many problems due to their young age and lack of money or mostly because he felt that she loved only the child and used him to get what she wanted. A very interesting quote she uses is "From Ancient Greece on, the people who returned from battle were either dead on their shields or stronger, despite or because of their scars. It's better that way: I've lived on a battlefield since I was born, but I'm still alive and I don't need anyone to protect me." She grows into a woman in search of answers to many questions that arise within a person. She had a life which many felt was content because she had a child of her own, money, and friends; everything but her mind was at peace, so she searches for the answer to the classical question of "Who am I?" through many experiences. In her quest, she opens her heart to intoxicating powers of mother and becomes a controversial spiritual leader in London.
The experience of making available 1/3 of the book in a blog, in the words of Paulo Coelho, enabled his readers to judge by themselves the value of the book. This direct contact is, in his view, the best bet for literature.
- NPR: Coelho Explores Goddesses in 'Witch of Portobello'
- AAP May 2007
- (English) "Readers’ Corner for The Witch of Portobello". The Witch of Portobello. 2007-09-02. Archived from the original on 2007-08-20. Retrieved 2007-09-02.