Title: The Witch of Portobello
Author: Paulo Coelho
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 9780007257449
Price: Rs. 296/-
Pages: 352
Rating: 3.5 on 5

Though his new book ‘Manuscript Found in Accra’ has hit the stores, many of you may not have read his ‘The Witch of the Portobello.’  Get to read the book review here, if you are going to buy it.                                                                                         

‘The Witch of the Portobello’ is one of those books that dig deep into the mysteries of the transcendental world. In this thought-provoking book, the author has beautifully blended the mundane life with the esoteric, and the one-dimensional aspect of a mortal being with the complexities of the supernatural world. The main protagonist, Athena or Sherin Khalil, is the adopted gypsy girl from Transylvania. She, as a child, sees invisible angels and untoward happenings; this is just the beginning of her contemplative nature that she develops fully later in life. On her journey of self-knowledge, she develops skills like dance and calligraphy: the arts that help her to connect with the divine power and invoke the spirits.

What does the author try to convey?  Writing about the paranormal happenings and the spiritual awakening has always been the forte of Paulo Coelho. In this book too, he tries to convey to the readers that divine powers are vested in all of us and that we need to look at the world from an altogether different perspective. And he does so by penning down the view points of different characters about Athena and the incidents that shape her chosen path.

Character Delineation: The only character in the book that has been delineated in detail is that of Athena. From the descriptions given by protagonists like Samira Khalil (her mother), Heron Ryan (her admirer), Andrea (Heron’s wife), and Edda (doctor), we come to know about her childhood, background, character traits, her way of looking at things, and her special ability to invoke the spirits. While in the state of trance, she speaks and behaves very differently. We come to know of her adamant attitude and her desire to know about the deeper meanings of life. The other characters simple play the role of tale-telling. Nothing much is revealed about them except how are they related to her.

About Theme and How it Develops? The central theme of the book is transformation of human soul by self-discovery. The author has woven it around Athena, the main character. Each chapter is focused on the narration of the incidents happening in her life, as told by people related to her directly or indirectly. This way of Coelho to weave the theme is not only unique but also helps the readers understand the central character from several stances. The story does not run in chronological order; it alternates between the descriptions of different protagonists, one after the other, but not in any specific order.

Style: The book follows the narrative style: different characters narrate the story from their point of view. Though there is no definite beginning or an interval, the plot has many actions and conflicts. The descriptions are interspersed with dialogues between the protagonists.

3-Dimensional Characters: The main characters in the book show three dimensional traits. They undergo change in accordance to situation and time. Athena, who is earlier not happy about her roots, develops a cordial relation with her real mother. Every unique experience brings about a positive change in her. She develops the power to call upon the spirits and help others in dealing with the difficult situations. She develops supreme powers while in a trance and helps others too to follow her part. Heron, a non-believer of the rituals, starts developing a faith in them. Andrea lets go of her possessive attitude towards love and leaves her husband.

Similarly, characters like Heron Ryan, Sameera Khalil, Andrea, and others do not remain flat throughout the book. Their interaction with Athena brings about a change in their perceptions about life and about Athena too.

Element of Suspense: The suspense comes towards the end of the story when we come to know that Athena was not murdered but it was a plot to evade the undesirable situation. Throughout the story, readers get an impression that she was killed for doing witchcraft; it is only at the very end, that they come to know about the reality.

Motifs: The story has many motifs. Invocation of Divine Mother as Hagia Sofia by Athena is one of the recurring elements that play a crucial role in the plot. It is via this invocation that Athena is able to realise her true self and is able to guide others too. The author has employed this motif to speak to the characters about their inner conflicts and guide them to follow the right path.

Another equally important motif that Coelho has used consistently is dance. While dancing, Athena goes in the state of ecstasy and speaks to others as the spirit of Hagia Sofia. Navel is yet another symbol; it stands for the center from which all energy of the universe emanates.

In my view, Paulo Coelho has succeeded to a great extent in conveying his message: One should try to tread the road less traveled in order to see his true self and that love is an end in itself.

Who would like it?
 Recommended for those who have an avid interest in transcendentalism and divinity.

Rating: 3.5/5


Famous Quotes by Paulo Coelho (from the book):

“You are what you believe yourself to be.”

‘What is a teacher? I’ll tell you: it isn’t someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”

“After all, what is happiness? Love, they tell me. But love doesn’t bring and never has brought happiness. On the contrary, it’s a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; it’s sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony.”

Have a look at the trailer of the movie, if you have not seen that too:

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