The Witch of Portobello
Harpers Collins - Browse Inside
Paulo Coelho of international fame for his book The Alchemist has here in The Witch of Portobello has woven a very unique and compelling tale. Part of what draws the reader in is the story itself and part is the very unique way it is written. Rather than a straight forward narrative, or a dialogue or even a series of letters this is a unique narrative technique. It is written as a series of first person accounts of individuals interactions with our unusual heroine Athena aka the Witch of Portobello.
These stories, taped interviews and letters have been compiled by a narrator we do not know until the end of the story. He has decided to let Athena's story be told as other's tell it, through their own words, and with all of their emotions, anger, support, respect or disgust. What we learn from these accounts is not only is Athena a bit of an enigma, from these accounts we could almost assume that almost every person encountered a different Athena, an Athena of the making in their own mind. The way the 'biography' is written it allows us to draw our own conclusions, rather than a traditionally researched biography that is colored by the lenses that cloud the vision of the biographer. Much as each of us look at the world through a series of lenses of our experiences, and cultural biases.
Athena is a young woman who tries to fill the spaces, the silences in her life. The more she tries to fill them the more dissatisfied she becomes. Until she learns that it is the silences between the notes that make the music so powerful. When she learns to embrace the silence, the spaces, she finds a power an energy. She becomes a spiritual leader, some see her as a saint and some see her as a sinner. She is both revered and feared. A saint and a demon. The compiled documents help us to see Athena for who she was.
So join our unknown biographer as we trace the life of a murdered young woman and journey around the world and into an unseen spiritual world. This book is better than some of Coelho's more recent offerings, and the narrative tool will draw you in and keep you turning the pages.
A warning though the book deals with earth religions and has some new age ceremonies in it, therefore it will not be for all readers.
(First Published in Imprint 2007-05-18 in the 'Book Review Column.)