The Witch of Portobello: A Novel

The Witch of Portobello: A Novel

by Paulo Coelho


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How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of who we are?

That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coelho’s profound new work, The Witch of Portobello. It is the story of a mysterious woman named Athena, told by the many who knew her well—or hardly at all. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061338816
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/05/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 146,851
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Paulo Coelho, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, is one of the bestselling and most influential authors in the world. The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, The Valkyries, Brida, Veronika Decides to Die, Eleven Minutes, The Zahir, The Witch of Portobello, The Winner Stands Alone, Aleph, Manuscript Found in Accra, and Adultery, among others, have sold over 175 million copies worldwide, and The Alchemist has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 360 weeks.

Paulo Coelho has been a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters since 2002, and in 2007, he was appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace. He is also the most followed author on social media.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1947

Place of Birth:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Left law school in second year

Read an Excerpt

The Witch of Portobello LP

Chapter One

Before these statements left my desk and followed the fate I eventually chose for them, I considered using them as the basis for a traditional, painstakingly researched biography, recounting a true story. And so I read various biographies, thinking this would help me, only to realize that the biographer's view of his subject inevitably influences the results of his research. Since it wasn't my intention to impose my own opinions on the reader, but to set down the story of "the Witch of Portobello" as seen by its main protagonists, I soon abandoned the idea of writing a straight biography and decided that the best approach would be simply to transcribe what people had told me.

Heron Ryan, forty-four, journalist

No one lights a lamp in order to hide it behind the door: the purpose of light is to create more light, to open people's eyes, to reveal the marvels around.

No one sacrifices the most important thing she possesses: love.

No one places her dreams in the hands of those who might destroy them.

No one, that is, but Athena.

A long time after Athena's death, her former teacher asked me to go with her to the town of Prestonpans in Scotland. There, taking advantage of certain ancient feudal powers that were due to be abolished the following month, the town had granted official pardons to eighty-one people—and their cats—who were executed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for practicing witchcraft.

According to the official spokeswoman for the Barons Courts of Prestoungrange & Dolphinstoun: "Most of those personscondemned . . . were convicted on the basis of spectral evidence—that is to say, prosecuting witnesses declared that they felt the presence of evil spirits or heard spirit voices."

There's no point now in going into all the excesses committed by the Inquisition, with its torture chambers and its bonfires lit by hatred and vengeance; however, on our way to Prestonpans, Edda said several times that there was something about that gesture which she found unacceptable: the town and the Fourteenth Baron of Prestoungrange & Dolphinstoun were "granting pardons" to people who had been brutally executed.

"Here we are in the twenty-first century, and yet the descendants of the real criminals, those who killed the innocent victims, still feel they have the right to grant pardons. Do you know what I mean, Heron'"

I did. A new witch hunt is starting to gain ground. This time the weapon isn't the red-hot iron, but irony and repression. Anyone who happens to discover a gift and dares to speak of their abilities is usually regarded with distrust. Generally speaking, their husband, wife, father, or child, or whoever, instead of feeling proud, forbids all mention of the matter, fearful of exposing their family to ridicule.

Before I met Athena, I thought all such gifts were a dishonest way of exploiting people's despair. My trip to Transylvania to make a documentary on vampires was also a way of proving how easily people are deceived. Certain superstitions, however absurd they may seem, remain in the human imagination and are often used by unscrupulous people. When I visited Dracula's castle, which has been reconstructed merely to give tourists the feeling that they're in a special place, I was approached by a government official who implied that I would receive a "significant" (to use his word) gift when the film was shown on the BBC. In the mind of that official, I was helping to propagate the myth and thus deserved a generous reward. One of the guides said that the number of visitors increased each year, and that any mention of the place would prove positive, even a program saying that the castle was a fake, that Vlad Dracula was a historical figure who had nothing to do with the myth, and that it was all merely a product of the wild imaginings of one Irishman [Editor's note: Bram Stoker], who had never even visited the region.

I knew then that, however rigorous I was with the facts, I was unwittingly collaborating with the lie; even if the idea behind my script was to demythologize the place, people would believe what they wanted to believe; the guide was right, I would simply be helping to generate more publicity. I immediately abandoned the project, even though I'd already spent quite a lot of money on the trip and on my research.

And yet my journey to Transylvania was to have a huge impact on my life, for I met Athena there when she was trying to track down her mother. Destiny—mysterious, implacable Destiny—brought us face-to-face in the insignificant foyer of a still more insignificant hotel. I was witness to her first conversation with Deidre—or Edda, as she likes to be called. I watched, as if I were a spectator of my own life, as my heart struggled vainly not to allow itself to be seduced by a woman who didn't belong to my world. I applauded when reason lost the battle, and all I could do was surrender and accept that I was in love.

That love led me to see things I'd never imagined could exist—rituals, materializations, trances. Believing that I was blinded by love, I doubted everything, but doubt, far from paralyzing me, pushed me in the direction of oceans whose very existence I couldn't admit. It was this same energy which, in difficult times, helped me to confront the cynicism of journalist colleagues and to write about Athena and her work. And since that love remains alive, the energy remains, even though Athena is dead, even though all I want now is to forget what I saw and learned. I could only navigate that world while hand in hand with Athena.

These were her gardens, her rivers, her mountains. Now that she's gone, I need everything to return as quickly as possible to how it used to be. I'm going to concentrate more on traffic problems, Britain's foreign policy, on how we administer taxes. I want to go back to thinking that the world of magic is merely a clever trick, that people are superstitious, that anything science cannot explain has no right to exist.

The Witch of Portobello LP. Copyright © by Paulo Coelho. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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The Witch of Portobello 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 143 reviews.
lit-in-the-last-frontier More than 1 year ago
This was what I call an ignorant snatch-I am racing past the audio books in my library, the name Paulo Coelho catches my eye, my hand reaches out on some self-propelled errand. The book has never found a place on my out-of-control To Be Read list, but somehow it has found its way onto my MP3 player in audio format. And glad I am of it. This book could not be described as plot driven by any stretch of the imagination. It is the story of Athena, a young woman who discovers that she has unusual abilities-the kind of abilities which in a less enlightened age would have condemned her to burn at the stake; but is this age really more enlightened? Throughout the book, which is told from various viewpoints, we follow Athena as she teaches herself, is taught by others, and ultimately becomes a teacher herself. As she works her way through the mediums of dance, calligraphy, and meditation, we see her discover her "center" and learn to channel an ancient spirit, giving voice to wisdom and warning. As a Christian, there were times when the themes of the book made me more than a little uncomfortable, but as the story flowed on, carried by Paulo Coelho's intense, gripping characters, one central truism came into focus. At the core of each of us there is a soul, and no matter what higher being we pledge ourself to (if indeed any at all) the essence of who we are is unchanged. In my attempt to better understand my soul I have never employed any of the same practices as Athena, but I can wholly understand her journey to find her center, because I have a traveled the same journey. I have simply followed a different path. The characters narrate chapters in turn, giving the reader a variety of viewpoints. As previously mentioned, I listened to the audio narrated by Rita Wolf, who did a marvelous job infusing distinct personalities into each character. Those not of a New Age mindset might find the premise of the book a little much to handle, but if you can let go long enough to immerse yourself in the beauty of the writing-Coelho paints characters of astounding depth-you will find a good deal of insight here. While character development is the driving force of the novel, there is of course some element of a plot, complete with a hint of mystery and suspense, which Coelho brings to a sound conclusion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked up Paulo Coelho's The Witch of Portobello because I liked the Alchemist, and I liked the idea of an exploration into feminine spirituality. I found that I was hooked into the story initially because of the immediate revelation that the main character had been murdered and the unconventional writing style of having the story about her be told by the testimonies of the people who knew her. As easy as it was to get into the book, I found it that difficult to finish. The initial intrigue into the main character's life turned into boredom over the details of her strange life. If the unusual nature of her life was supposed to reveal some understanding of the divine feminine, I found that it was only superficial at best and left me unsatisfied at the end of the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You will actually have to read this novel all the way to the last paragraph to get it. Don't give up half way through. Initially, I was like, 'what is about really'. But I continued to read it, because I purchased it in Paris, with euros, and paid a premium. This is, how and why I ultimately decided to finish the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As some of his other books,.he brings his mysticism into the story, in this one in particualr, as with The Alchemist, there is story and characters that develp and you feel compelled to follow.
Victoria Sazani More than 1 year ago
a 21st century messiah story done in Cliff notes.biblical style. This story pretty much tells the story of a woman heralding the return of the Great Mother who was never really gone anyway, just ignored by women as they proceed to disenfranchise themselves, for literally god knows what. The confusion, the resulting persecution. Even the ending has a sense of death and rebirth. One correction tho, when it comes to parthenagenesis or imaculate conception, the resulting child can only be female. So we know that part of the myth can be put to rest finally.
Guest More than 1 year ago
That your broke and not so good looking? Read Coelho and have your self doubts reinforced. Supposedly we all need to know that there is more to life than ... say... life, but why people think that that 'more' is supplied by Paulo Coelho is beyond me. I have always avoided his books ¿ catch phrases like: '65 million people can't be wrong', and 'publishing phenomenon', don't convince me a good writer is involved. Unfortunately while I was out of town my book club selected 'The Witch of Portobello' and I knew I was in for it. Other than being a quick read, which probably appeals to many of Coelho's readers, I have nothing good to say about this book. The main character is rich, one dimensional and well connected and so is everyone else she comes across. Her transformation through travel, work and study is written like a fable '...a client at the bank where I work ...told me that your a wise man', and yet there is nothing allegorical or fantastical in this fairy-tale. Characters in 'The Witch of Portobello' do not journey, rather they tour trendy locations and experience things that could be plucked out of a Lonely Planet Guide Book. They do not study with discipline rather they get into circular arguments with their supposed teachers and bosses, usually over wine, and miraculously they stumble upon riches and magical powers. Finacially secure and nowhere else to go but up the main character, a single mother and college drop out, becomes a living deity. When the media gets curious Coelho offs her in a typical fashion and everyone goes back home to their pile of bills. All I can say is if this works for you, you deserve nothing but the best!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book started out quite strong. It reminded me greatly of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse in its spiritual themes of seeking greater meaning in everyday life and the beauty of the connections between everything in existence. However, about half way through the novel the spiritual ideas start to break down into flowery words and concepts that contradict each other and have little meaning or importance. Still, it was worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book.
yLadyBlossom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of a woman trying to find and understand herself, told by the people who knew her. The main message it carries is to be true to yourself at all times no matter what we may encounter.
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hmm...tough one to review. This was my second novel of Paulo Coelho's (the first being The Alchemist), and they were very dissimilar from one another. In general, some of the descriptive words that I've seen to describe this book are accurate: pagan, new-age, mystic. It's a different kind of read for me, but it does make the reader examine his/her own personal beliefs & almost forces one to make somewhat of a judgment as to the plausibility of such things. Overall, not particularly my style of read as a stand-alone book. However. This will make a good book for a group discussion, I think, and I am looking forward to such a discussion at my upcoming book group meeting. The reader of the audio version of this (Rita Wolf) does an excellent job, by the way, with capturing the various characterizations and dialects.
bohemiangirl35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the beginning of the novel, when the journalist says he wanted to write a biography, but also wanted to be true to the subject's life and so chose to use the interviews he conducted as they were given instead of paraphrasing, I was expecting something really different. I think the set up for how the book would be presented was okay, but the topic itself was just okay. The self-named Athena is a gypsy child given up for adoption and taken in by a couple from Lebanon, despite warnings from the caregiver at the orphanage. She grew up with a strong personality with an innate connection to the spiritual. Like many adopted children, she sought her birth mother and made her peace.Athena becomes a spiritualist, learning by teaching others how to connect to the divine. She develops a large following and many detractors and eventually goes into hiding to escape the drama.
kakadoo202 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
sadly the author lost me during the first CD of the audio version. I was reminded of his book BRIDA. here as well I was not able to connect to the characters or the story. THis is jsut oo unreal for me.
LisMB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I completely enjoyed this book. Recommend!!
andreablythe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Athena is many things to many people, a witch, a mystic, a bank worker, a dancer, a crazy woman, a mother, a gypsy ... The picture of Athena unfolds in this novel, told by the people who knew her, who hated her and loved her. It's a beautiful story, invoking the goddess and ripe with the potential of female power, both spiritual, magical, and mundane.
mandaj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the interview style used. I felt that each character was opening up and reminiscing in complete truthfulness about a woman who touched each differently. Each person viewed a portion of the whole. The end result is a complete picture of the imprint left by a unique young woman. The overall flow of the story felt peaceful. The memories did not feel rushed or overcrowded with unnecessary excitement. It was relaxing reading just before bed.
soliloquies on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I normally really enjoy Paulo Coehlo books, but this one I just couldn't get into. on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have an "okay" and hate relationship with this book. I feel that it is hard to judge a book because of its narrative merit, when it's not much of a narrative to begin with. I did enjoy reading about the topic of the feminine side of God even though sometimes it was annoyingly vague "love will manifest itself how the Mother wants..." The parts I found incredibly boring were parts that I felt I was supposed to care about Athena. Athena was as distant to me as a woman I'm reading about in a newspaper. I had difficulty, therefore, "feeling" what she felt. To compensate, I imagined that the reason Athena was never fleshed out was because she was simply used as a medium, a vessel if you will, of knowledge that Coelho wanted to relay to his reader. He uses Athena and a somewhat, but not really, narrative form in order to accomplish this. So I was able to apply what I learned from the book to my life easier because I replaced Athena with me. In a way. Basically, the whole book was not much more than a motivational book with a spiritual side. I imagine this wasn't Coelho's intention at all, but it helped me pull through the book.The book had potential. I liked that Coelho wrote about the many different perspectives from many different characters. What I hated was that they all seemed to be the same perspective. I wanted to read about people who HATED Athena, or thought she was a psycho that needed to be committed. I wanted to read about Andrea being jealous of her, or her boss giving her a hard time. I didn't want the whole book to be so neat and tidy. I wanted to read about what goes on in the minds of real humans and I wanted to see real prejudices and biases. I'm not saying they should be encouraged, but that's real life--and these characters lacked that "realness." Coehlo would have had an excellent way of working through preconceived notions of others to arrive at something deeper and bigger behind the novel. Instead, I felt like I was more told about the "Mother" or else her power was forced on me. The book is either full of lectures or Athena's trances -- trances which I felt were pretty silly.All in all, I won't reserve a spot on my shelf to keep The Witch of Portobello.
Berly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Witch of Portobello started off strong. I enjoyed the exploration of the feminine side of God and religion and the thought that we all know the answers to our questions deep inside ourselves if we only listen. I like how the main character was described only through the voices of others and their direct quotations of her. Skillfully done. Unfortunately, I found the ending a let down, not from a religious point of view but from a plot fizzle point of view. Still, a good book, but no Aha moments like I had with Coelho's other book, The Alchemist. Three stars.
pajakupj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A story how woman find her way to go. She finds that everything is not ok! Like many other women have find. The story is told and it´s outside of the principal character, bur she is althoug the center of attention. She is groving on her way. This story of woman is a fiction but quite truth. This story is another way to find wicca as lifestyle. This woman is a bit older than Brida, but both turn to wicca. So when I read both books I have to read a book of Wicca, so that I understand what this stories are. The sotory is interesting and Coelho followes his way to write spiritual things. How to find the meaning of life is the subjekt in many of his books. The way he writes is very interesting and books are easy to read. I recommend this book to read.
mayaspector on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not completely believable, but the device of telling the story through vignettes by characters who knew the protagonist worked very well.
gward101 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh dear. Have you ever been in a bookshop with a three-for-two deal, found two books you wanted to read then struggled to find a third? The Witch of Portobello was very much my 'third' book. I'd heard the name Paul Coelho but not really taken much notice and thought this would be a good introduction. The back cover 'blurb' certainly sounded promising. In the event I came away from reading this book with the impression that I hadn't so much read a novel as been preached to about spirituality. Not recommended.
glsims99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
love the first 1/2, towards the end, it got a little too weird for me, however the final scene saved it for me.
iowamare on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i picked this up in an airport over the holidays - and it was the perfect book at the perfect time. at first i kept almost quitting the book - i was a little unsure - but i kept on reading till i got quite hooked in - it's the first book that i've read that i wanted to re-read even befor i finished it the first time-i lent it to my brother-in-law and will have to get it back from him soon.seems kinda corny and yet not at all
seph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just as Athena struggled with the spaces in her life, I found this book to be all about the spaces between the words, and given that, I don't think any two people will get exactly the same thing from this story. This book is brilliantly written and thoroughly inspirational. I intend to have a high-lighter and bookmarks on hand the next time I read it, and I expect I will read this book many times over the years as a prompt for insight into my own soul.