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The Witch of Portobello: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – February 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Multimillion-seller Coelho (The Devil and Miss Prym, etc.) returns with another uncanny fusion of philosophy, religious miracle and moral parable. The Portobello of the title is London's Portobello Road, where Sherine Khalil, aka Athena, finds the worship meeting she's leading—where she becomes an omniscient goddess named Hagia Sophia—disrupted by a Protestant protest. Framed as a set of interviews conducted with those who knew Athena, who is dead as the book opens, the story recounts her birth in Transylvania to a Gypsy mother, her adoption by wealthy Lebanese Christians; her short, early marriage to a man she meets at a London college (one of the interviewees); her son Viorel's birth; and her stint selling real estate in Dubai. Back in London in the book's second half, Athena learns to harness the powers that have been present but inchoate within her, and the story picks up as she acquires a "teacher" (Deidre O'Neill, aka Edda, another interviewee), then disciples (also interviewed), and speeds toward a spectacular end. Coelho veers between his signature criticism of modern life and the hydra-headed alternative that Athena taps into. Athena's earliest years don't end up having much plot, but the second half's intrigue sustains the book. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Best-selling fabulist Coelho continues to transform his trademark combination of mysticism and storytelling into spellbinding examinations of the human soul. In this deceptively simple novel, a bereaved lover attempts to chronicle, dissect, and comprehend the often-twisted path followed by Athena, otherwise known as the Witch of Portobello Road. An orphaned Romanian gypsy, adopted as an infant by adoring Lebanese parents, Athena recognized and struggled with the power of her magical gifts at an early age. Spurred on by truths and passions inaccessible to most of her contemporaries, she traipsed around Europe and the Middle East in search of acceptance, enlightenment, and a truer path. Developing a cultlike following, she became the object of a modern-day witch hunt that seemingly culminated in tragedy. Unable to construct a typically straightforward chronicle of her life, her would-be biographer relies on the divergent recollections and reflections of the people who knew--or thought they knew--her best. Narrated from multiple points of view, the portrait of Athena that emerges is as provocative and spiritually complex as one would expect from the author of The Alchemist (1993) and The Devil and Miss Prym (2006). Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061338818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061338816
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The Brazilian author PAULO COELHO is considered one of the most influential authors of our times. His books have sold more than 165 million copies worldwide, have been released in 170 countries and been translated into 80 languages.

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, he soon discovered his vocation for writing. He worked as a director, theater actor, songwriter and journalist. His collaboration with Brazilian composer and singer Raúl Seixas gave some of the greatest classic rock songs in Brazil. In 1986, a special meeting led him to make the pilgrimage to Saint James Compostela (in Spain). The Road to Santiago was not only a common pilgrimage but a turning point in his existence. A year later, he wrote 'The Pilgrimage', an autobiographical novel that is considered the beginning of his career.

In the following year, COELHO published 'The Alchemist'. Slow initial sales convinced his first publisher to drop the novel, but it went on to become one of the best selling Brazilian books of all time.

Other titles include 'Brida' (1990), 'The Valkyries' (1992), 'By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept' (1994), the collection of his best columns published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo entitle 'Maktub' (1994), the compilation of texts 'Phrases' (1995), 'The Fifth Mountain' (1996), 'Manual of a Warrior of Light' (1997), 'Veronika decides to die' (1998), 'The Devil and Miss Prym' (2000), the compilation of traditional tales in 'Stories for parents, children and grandchildren' (2001), 'Eleven Minutes' (2003), 'The Zahir' (2005), 'Like the Flowing River' (2006), 'The Witch of Portobello' (2006), 'The Winner Stands Alone' (2008), 'Aleph' (2010), 'Manuscript found in Accra' (2012) and 'Adultery' (2014).

He has received numerous prestigious international awards. He is member of the Academy of Letters of Brazil since 2002 and Messenger of Peace by the United Nations since 2007. In 2009 he received the Guinness World Record for the most translated author for the same book (The Alchemist).

The man behind the author likes to write and practices Kyudo - a meditative archery. He loves reading, walking, football and computers. In that sense, he has always maintained a close contact with his readers but now, and thanks to the new media, he has established an incredible feedback with them. Paulo was the second most influential celebrity on Twitter in 2010 according to Forbes and he is the writer with the highest number of followers in the social media.

In the past years Paulo Coelho has expanded his presence in the internet with his daily blogs in Wordpress (, Facebook (, Twitter ( & Instagram (, among others. He is equally present in media sharing sites such as Youtube ( and Flickr ( , offering on a regular basis not only texts but also videos and pictures to his readers.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Z Hayes HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on May 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have read quite a lot of Paolo Coelho's works, my favorites being The Alchemist and By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. This is another compelling work by Coelho. As in most of his works, there is an enigmatic main character, in this instance a woman who is dead at the beginning of the book - the rest of the book deals with piecing her life through a series of first-person accounts. Born of Gypsy origins, she is adopted by a Lebanese couple and later calls herself Athena. She also seems blessed with spiritual powers and is filled with a certain restlessness that leads her on an amazing if unfocussed personal journey finally finding a mentor in a woman called Edda who helps her deal with her spiritual powers. The story moves along and we get to read of Athena's rise and inevitably, her demise, made compelling mostly through Coelho's consummate narrative skills. As always, Coelho's stories are about spirituality & the search for inner truth/self & will apppeal to those who are interested in the subject matter.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Steven R. McEvoy on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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90 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Brian Callahan on January 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I read and enjoyed The Alchemist a few years ago, and my wife wanted me to
try this one, but it sure didn't do it for me. While I'm intrigued by the
story-told-by-many-viewpoints technique, there is very little story to tell for most of the book, just the vague spiritual quest of a little-characterized but seemingly very self-involved girl trying to understand why she Feels Different. She falls under the tutelage of a Pagan priestess, comes to understand she Is Different, develops a relationship with the Mother Goddess, takes on the mission to Spread the Love, flirts with martyrdom, etc. etc.
I'm sincerely open to alternative religious exploration, but the belief system described here is nothing but the sort of hazy, hippy sentiment you'd hear in any freshman dorm room through a cloud of incense and dope smoke. (Dance to commune with the goddess; Take your clothes off to Really Communicate with each other; Give up your Gender Hangups to achieve Sexual Freedom... None of this is made up, by the way).
The characters are never real enough for the book to be a commentary on how religion works in the real world, and the Spiritualism described is certainly not concrete enough for this to be considered a serious religious exploration, so we're left with a meandering story that's supposed to be Profound simply because the characters tell us it is.
I didn't buy it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Florcita on January 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Like the other books I have read of Paulo Coelho, Once I started reading I couldn't put the book down!!! He manages to engage the reader's attention, is amazing!
This is the story about a young woman named Sherine, who used to go by the name Athena, who has a spiritual gift, she was born with it, and followed her intuition to developed it further!
Paulo Coelho is a genious!!! He wrote this book in the form of a series of interviews with the people who knew her and were close to her. You can see the theory of people projecting themselves in other people, in action here! For example a man who was in love with her, projecting his feelings into her, and assuming whatever he wanted to assume from her, and a women projecting her insecurities into her, and assuming what she wanted to assume to suport her theories about Athena, both of them wrong, and so on with most everybody else. Some of this people changed their view, once the surrender their expectations, and learned to just be and let others be, others in this case mainly Athena, which actually is a free spirit who learned to connect to her source, and live her life taping into this source, this flowing river of life, which has no limitations, which is pure love and no judgement. Athena seemed to me like a being with no agenda, except the propagation of the Love for the Universal Mother, and with no judgement. She seemed only concerned with fulfilling her mission in this world and taking care of her family, her consciousness was very high, as also her ability to manifest prosperity, she was also a very nurturing being.
You can also see from this novel, that the witch hunt does continue in other forms.
People should just respect others people beliefs without judging, and love unconditionaly. The comandment says love your neighbor like yourself, it doesn't say love your neighbor who goes to your church like yourself.
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