I read a Norwegian hardback version of The Witch of Portobello.
Publisher: Bazar Forlag (Norwegian edition)
Originally published: September, 2006
Pages: 319 (hardback)
Audiobook length: 8 Hours and 14 Minutes
Blurb by the publisher:
Paulo Coelho, one of the world’s best-loved storytellers, is back with a riveting novel tracing the mysterious life and disappearance of Athena dubbed `the Witch of Portobello’, which was a top ten Sunday Times bestseller in hardback.
This is the story of Athena, or Sherine, to give her the name she was baptized with. Her life is pieced together through a series of recorded interviews with those people who knew her well or hardly at all – parents, colleagues, teachers, friends, acquaintances, her ex-husband.
The novel unravels Athena’s mysterious beginnings, via an orphanage in Romania, to a childhood in Beirut. When war breaks out, her adoptive family move with her to London, where a dramatic turn of events occurs…
Athena, who has been dubbed ‘the Witch of Portobello’ for her seeming powers of prophecy, disappears dramatically, leaving those who knew her to solve the mystery of her life and abrupt departure.
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.
I’m not sure what it was that I expected from this novel, except that I always have high expectations whenever I go into a new Coelho novel.
The Witch of Portobello tells the story of Athena (aka. Sherine Khalil) told through the people that she met throughout her life. We get to know at the very beginning of the story that Athena is dead, but we don’t know how or why. This is the thing that drives the story forward.
Through “interviews” with family, lovers, friends, and acquaintances, Coelho paints the picture of this mysterious woman coming from a gypsy background in Transylvania, adopted into a wealthy Lebanese family and then marrying and having a child at the age of 18. We then get to know the mysterious story of how her life unfolds through the lives that she touched in one way or the other. Some for better, some for worse.
There’s quite a lot of mystery to this story, and to find out how everything builds up to the ending of Athena’s life. As this is a Coelho novel, there is a certain amount of talk about religion and spirituality, which I think is to be expected if one has read any of his other novels. I for one don’t mind it, but I also feel like it can become a bit much at times.
I also had a bit of a hard time connecting to the character of Athena. That could be because we never really get to see or hear anything from her perspective. That makes her a character that’s hard for me to get a connection to, and therefore also one that I couldn’t really find myself fully invested in.
Even so, Coelho is a really good storyteller, and I never found this story to be boring or my mind to drift.
An interesting story about an interesting character’s fate, but the writing style didn’t fully appeal to me, unfortunately.
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