Friday, June 15, 2007

The Witch of Portobello - Paulo Coelho

The new book from the 'most popular' South American writer was released in India last month. I say most popular because, I think he is currently the most discussed or sought after author in India , more that Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I have read all the books released of Paulo Coelho in English, I have decided to get this book as well. He is not my most liked South American author.He has a very European way of writing and is very deliberate in his words.
The story of Athena, a gypsy parental girl adopted by Lebanese couple and grew up in Beirut and London. The mystical path inherited in her blood gives her visions of the Holy Angels during her childhood. The family moves into England following the disrupt and war in Lebanon and like everyone Athena too gets to the normal life of love, wedding , child and job routine . Multiple events with mystical backgrounds ( the house owner who plays the Siberian music to a team into trance , the Arabian calligraphy teacher ) awaken her quest for knowing the truth and "filling the spaces" of her life. She takes a tour to her native(?) Romania in search of her real mother and the meeting with the mysterious spiritual teacher, her gypsy mother and others takes a different turn in her life. Athena now become the protagonist of the "the Mother" and slowly develop a cult like following. During the ceremonies she become the incarnation of Hagia Sofia ( the name she invent for herself when she is in touch with "the mother" ) and gives sermon to the followers curing illness, helping in love lif and other miracles . And as it turns out she became the object of a modern-day witch hunt in England and a topic of discussion in the divided society.
As the case of his earlier fictions, Paulo Coelho, mixes Philosophy , mysticism and religion with his acute style of writing. This novel is also uses a new method of story telling; first person re-collection of people who are in some way associated or related to Athena. Each chapter is written as narrated by one of the participant to the author. The only other novel I remember to use a similar style is Life A user's manual by George Perec ( I read this book 10 years ago and writing from memory: I could be wrong).
And finally, it is a well written book and will go well with people who like his style of writing. However, this is not a COMPELLING BOOK ( as the critics say ) in anyway.

The Witch of Portobello
Author : Paulo Coelho
Harper Collins
322 pages ( paperback)

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