BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #50: The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho
The Witch of Portobello is the first book that I’ve ever read by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho . The version I read was the English translation done by Margaret Jull Costa. With translations, I always wonder how much credit goes to the original author and how much to the translator. Certainly the storyline is the author, but if I enjoy the wording, how much credit for that is due to the choices of the translator?
In either case, I enjoyed this book for both plot and writing style. The book is told as a series of interviews, much as a journalist might conduct, with a variety of people who knew the titular Witch of Portobello. This woman was a Romanian Gypsy adopted by a Lebanese couple and raised primarily in London. Renaming herself Athena, she drops out of college, has a child and short-lived marriage, and embarks on a spiritual quest that leads her to the goddess and self-fulfillment in teaching others the same. For Athena, the goddess is contacted through losing oneself through dancing or calligraphy and she attempts to help others achieve the sort of knowledge she finds by teaching her methods as well as learning from others on the same path. Of course, this does not go over well with traditional religious leaders who attempt to stop her.
By using interviews to move the story along, it allowed for different facets of Athena’s personality to be shown as each had a different relationship to her. Some saw her as a pupil, others as a threat, and others as a bewitching idol. Not all of the interviewees liked her. This dichotomy brought an element of realism to a book about spiritualism.
On a side note, I found it kind of funny to be reading this so soon after reading The God Delusion as the very basis of this book is the search for a spiritual connection within all of us. I guess that’s why it’s called fiction.