The Witch of Portobello

By Paulo Coelho, Margaret Jull Costa

72,644 ratings - 3.54* vote

How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom 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. How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are?That is the central question of international bestselling author

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Book details

Paperback, 261 pages
2008 by Harper Perennial

(first published September 2006)

Original Title
A Bruxa de Portobello
0061338818 (ISBN13: 9780061338816)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I always wished that Paulo Coehlo was my uncle so that I could call him ‘Papa Coelho’ and sit at his knee while he smoked his pipe. I think that he would be delightfully eccentric, and given to saying things like ‘Suffering, if confronted without fear, is the great passport to freedom.’ So, true, Papa Coelho. So true.
If he was my uncle, though, I might not tell him that I thought The Alchemist was tripe, and that most of his books carry too much philosophizing and not enough narrative. But in The Witch of Portobello, he achieves what others have tried so hard to do and failed so miserably at (I’m looking at you, Marilynne Robinson). There was such a fine balance between story and lesson that I was never bored by the one nor overwhelmed by the other.
The narrator of the story tells us right off that he’s not going to try to write a straight-up biography, but that in the interests of objectivity (of a sort), he’s just going to put down verbatim the interviews he conducted on the subject of the alleged ‘witch.’ From the journalist who fell in love with her to the woman who felt betrayed by her, from birth mother to adoptive mother, from teacher to student, are all given a chance to tell how Athena, born Sherine and sometimes called Hagia Sofia, messed them over. Each one recounts how she waltzed into their lives with that restless spirit and those grey eyes, and began throwing around the carefully-arranged furniture (metaphorically speaking). And then she died.
Even though I kind of rolled my eyes for the first few pages and though, ‘Damn, another one of these,’ and even though nothing really happened in the way of a plot (Athena travelled here, learned this lesson in this way, travelled there, learned that lesson), I found myself sucked in. I would be on the Stairmaster, book in hand, and look down to realize that I’d climbed twenty floors without noticing. There was something strangely compelling about Athena, and being told her story from everyone’s perspective but hers made her into this mysterious goddess figure, a myth that she simultaneously upheld and debunked at every turn.
I’m usually very much not in to books that try to refine my soul (it has been suggested that this is because I lack said soul), particularly because the message usually gets in the way of the medium. But somehow with this book I found myself yelling, ‘Yes! Yes! I will dance against the rhythm, dammit!’ and casting off the shackles of this dark world (ok, really I just tapped my finger against my lip, murmured, ‘Interesting,’ and promised myself I’d think more deeply about it later, but you get the gist).
In short, though the dialogue stumbled at times and each of the narrators spoke with pretty much the same voice, this book was a pleasure to read…which means I didn’t suffer…which means I don’t have my passport to freedom! Oh, Papa Coelho, if only you were here now. I’m so confused.


This book *really* made me think about who I am and where I am going, and who I want to be as a woman, a wife, a soon-to-be-mother, a daughter, and a human.

I didn't always like Paulo Coehlo's work. I tried to read The Alchemist in college and the novel just didn't do it for me. But a friend recommended Veronika Decides to Die to me while a loved one was in the hospital for depression and I was struggling to understand what might be happening in there, and ever since, Coehlo has been one of my obsessions.

When I picked up The Witch of Portobello, I didn't know quite what to expect. The synopsis said "How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are? That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coehlo's profound new work..."

"Oh. Profound," said the skeptic in me. "We'll just see about that."

But all I know is this...the protagonist of the book, Athena, follows a winding path to enlightenment in the form of a female deity. And along the way she struggles to transcend society's expectations of her. The book is about the power that everyone has to find their own spirituality and fight against the norm. And in spite of myself, the novel made me feel able to make my own decisions, both practical and spiritual.

Coehlo uses a number of narrators to flesh out Athena's story, and these differing perspectives add a real depth to the story line. As a reader, you like some narrators and dislike others, which gives you the ability to take what you like from each and leave the rest, creating your own picture of Athena as you go.

This is a book to be read slowly and with a great deal of self-reflection. It's not a breezy beach vacation read, but it's worth the work. It's a book about soul, so get ready to grapple with your own.


Trapped for hours in an airport with nothing to read, my wife was further victimized by this remarkably bad book, one of five books available for sale in Portland International Airport at 2am.

You can turn to any page and find a really hackneyed phrase. Kahil Gibrain's psuedo-religious drivel was at least poetic and brief by comparison. The story is supposed to be the voices of different people, but the Catholic priest, the Lebanese mother, the 65-year old restaurant owner, are all utterly indistinct.

It's a platform for his blah-blah-blah philosophizing about Joy is this, Love is that, do these five things to live well, etc. Maybe there's some good advice in here, but you'd need to be awake to absorb it. Anybody could smoke dope near a tape recorder and write something this deep. Even this review has taken more of your time than this book deserves.

Ahmad Sharabiani

A Bruxa de Portobello = The witch of portobello, Paulo Coelho

The Witch of Portobello is a fiction work by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho published in 2007, about a woman born in Transylvania to a Romani mother in a gypsy tribe without wedlock. The central character is abandoned by her birth mother because the father was a foreigner (gadje) and later adopted by a wealthy Lebanese couple.

عنوانها: ساحره پورتوبلو؛ ساحره ی پورتوبلو؛ جادوگر پورتوبلو؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز نخست ماه ژوئن سال 2008میلادی

عنوان: ساحره ی پورتوبلو؛ نویسنده: پائولو کوئیلو؛ مترجم: آرش حجازی؛ تهران، کاروان، چاپ اول تا سوم 1386؛ در 295ص؛ شابک 9789648497946؛ چاپ چهارم تام ششم 1387؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان برزیلی - سده ی 21م

عنوان: ساحره پورتوبلو؛ نویسنده: پائولو کوئیلو؛ مترجم: مسیحا برزگر؛ تهران، آسیم، 1386؛ در شانزده و 260ص؛ شابک 9789644183898؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، ذهن آویز، 1387؛ در چهارده و 260ص؛ شابک 9786005219135؛

عنوان: ساحره ی پورتوبلو؛ نویسنده: پائولو کوئیلو؛ مترجم: سینا زیدی؛ تهران، افراز، 1388؛ در 302ص؛ شابک 9789642837410؛

عنوان: ساحره پورتوبلو؛ نویسنده: پائولو کوئیلو؛ مترجم: میترا میرشکار؛ تهران، پر، کوشش، 1388، در 340ص؛ شابک 9789648007241؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نوین، 1392، شابک 9789646325456؛

عنوان: جادوگر پورتوبلو؛ نویسنده: پائولو کوئیلو؛ مترجم سوسن اردکانی؛ تهران، نگارستان کتاب، 1388، در 419ص؛ شابک 9786005541243؛

یتیمی که مادرش او را در ترانسیلوانی سر راه گذاشت، کودکی که زن و شوهری لبنانی او را به فرزندی پذیرفتند، آتنا ازدواج میکند، بچه دار میشود، از شوهر جدا میشود، حالا که مادر شده، مدام به زنی میاندیشد که او را زاد، برای کشف این راز در رومانی، به میان کولیها میرود؛ ا. شربیانی


Preachy new age-y bullshit, with a distinct undertone of "I'm idealizing feminine qualities, so I can't possibly be sexist" sexism. Seriously, one of his characters lists four female archetypes that women supposedly follow, and although he calls them the witch, the virgin, the martyr and the saint, it's just that quote about how all roles for actresses are hookers, victims or doormats, with "bitch" thrown in for variety. The use of various narrators is one of my favorite narrative devices, but it just falls flat in this; the "voices" don't feel at all different. The "reveal" at the end was only surprising because it was dumb and unnecessary. None of the characters felt particularly developed. Oh, and the editor's notes just insulted my intelligence. If you refer to Dracula being the work of an Irishman who never visited Transylvania, I get that it's Bram Stoker without being told, thanks. And, if you reference Maronite Christians, but it doesn't add a damn thing to your story, you don't have to interrupt a thought to tell me what their sect believes. I could rant on like this for awhile, but basically, this is a preachy non-story that insults its readers intelligence. I left it on a plane with angry notes scrawled in the margins.
Not a great start to a new year of reading, but at least there's no where to go but up.

Anish Kohli

What a load of crap, this..!!!
I had long since wanted to try a Paulo Coelho book and I picked this on impulse.
Man, I've never been soo damn wrong in my life.
Half way through it, I was getting HEADSPINS...!!! Being stubborn as I am, somehow managed to get through it and was left utterly dismayed and with a very bad taste in my mouth.
The author literally CHOKES you on his idea of spirituality and self awareness.



This is not a novel -- it's a treatise. There is a character, Athena, that I never come to care about, and there is no plot. What IS there, you ask? Well, there's an explication of a belief system. That's it. That's what this is.

Most of the book is taken up in various people talking to each other in the kind of philosophical conversations that normal people almost never have. Whenever you see a chat starting, buckle up.

I couldn't have been more disappointed, as I like Coelho most of the time. I just don't like being the object of preaching.

Lynn Wilson

I literally could not put this book down. While I'm a book lover and devour many books, I consider this one to be a very special treat.

Lamski Kikita

spiritual, mystical, and will absolutely take over your soul!
while reading this book, i felt inhibited by every feeling and gesture, and was possessed by Athena, the woman who is everything each and everyone of us want to be, but is afraid of becoming. The book certainly questions organized religions and brings back the idea of mother earth as the ultimate goddess. I have to, no, i MUST, type up this quote:

" We women, when we are searching for a meaning to our lives or for the path of knowledge, always identify with one of four classic archtypes:

"The Virgin (and I am not speaking her of the sexual virgin) is the one whose search springs from from her complete independence, and everyghing she learns is the fruite of her ability to face challenges alone.

"The Martyr finde her way to self-knowledge through pain, surrender, and suffering.

"The Saint finds her true reason for living in unconditional love and in her ability to give without asking anything in return.

"Finally, the Witch justifies her existance by going in search of complete and limitless pleasure."

So, which one are you??

⊱ Poppy ⊰

‘The Witch of Portobello’ by Paulo Coelho is not a straight biographical book or the opinion of the writer on its main protagonists. It’s what the other people transcribe the writer about the women, the Witch of Portobello.

“No one lights a lamp in order to hide it behind the door……..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.”

It’s the story of Athena, or Sherine Khalil, who was always ready to walk out of the door from the comfort zone and confront the winds, the thunder and the lightning that life can bring, again and again, all by her own choice.

According to the writer, there are four classic archetypes of women who search for a meaning to their lives or for the path of knowledge:

The Virgin (not speaking of sexual virgin): One whose search springs from her complete independence and everything she learns is the fruit of her ability to face challenges alone.

The Martyr: The one who finds her way to self-knowledge through pain, surrender and suffering.

The Saint: The one who finds her true reason for living in unconditional love and in her ability to give without asking anything in return.

The Witch: The one who justifies her existence by going in search of complete and limitless pleasure.

“Normally, a women has to choose from one of these traditional feminine archetypes, but Athena was all four at once”

Shreine Khalil, known as Athena was born in Romania and her parents, a successful industrialist family of Beirut adopted her, as their much loved, much-wanted daughter, who grew in wisdom and beauty. From an early age she had a strong religious vocation and knew all the gospels by heart, which was a blessing and a curse. She had the secret desire to become a saint someday. She had everything one can ask for, and yet it didn’t satisfy her restless soul. Her adopted mother, who was always ready to take care of her, give her all the love and comfort she could, want to see her win in whatever she does, though didn’t understand her, who felt that “a mother doesn’t have to understand anything, she simply has to love and protect”. A father, who loved her, was ready to be by her side in whatever she does and believed and respected her opinions as most correct even when she was just a child. The best of education that she left before completing; got married and divorced with a son in twenty; left the Church, on which she had deep faith from her childhood, after it forbade her from receiving sacrament, due to her divorce; a good job in a bank what she left when she was being just more than successful; took the job of selling land in dessert and left that too when she was earning more than enough, a successful Journalist, whom she left, who was ready to leave everything to love her. She was a restless soul, whom the success and comfort couldn’t content, who was learning all her life to suffer in silence, abandoned again and again by her birth mother, then by her husband and then by the Church she was so attached to, was trying to understand the meaning of life, through dance reaching Vertex and through calligraphy and passing this energy, the secret of rejuvenation to everyone else.

She went to find her birth mother when she realized the existence of blank spaces in her life. “Music only exists because pauses exist, and sentences only exist because the blank spaces exist” It’s the blank spaces which gives meaning to a sentence, the pauses which make music. There are blank spaces in everyone’s life since no one can keep active twenty four hours a day. But one needs to understand these blank spaces to make one’s soul composed and calm.

Vertex is the culminating point of life, the goal of all those who, like everyone else, make mistakes, but who, even in their darkest moments, never lose sight of the light emanating from their hearts. The Vertex is hidden inside us, and we can reach it if we accept it and recognize it.

Calligraphy, as written in the book, is the search for perfect meaning of each word through writing, the writing which wasn’t just the expression of a thought, but a way of reflecting on the meaning of each word. A single letter requires us to distil in it all the energy it contains, as if were carving out its meaning. It teaches objectivity and patience, respect and elegance.

She kept constantly destroying and rebuilding herself. Everything in her life had followed the same pattern: from lost to found; from divorce to new love; from working in a bank to selling real estate in the desert. There was only one thing which remained intact, that was her son. He was the only connecting thread.

Nothing could contend her restless soul; nothing could bring her peace of mind, neither even reaching Vertex through dancing or calligraphy. And finally she went to teach people something she didn’t know, that’s when she was bringing the soul to the surface, and speaking what the eternity, depicted as ‘the Mother’ in the book, wants to reveal through her.

Athena was bringing to the surface the immensely rich world we carry in our souls, without realizing that people aren’t yet ready to accept their own powers. That’s why the writer describes her as a woman of twenty-second century living in the twenty-first, and making no secret of the fact either. That was her biggest problem.

“……..perhaps you came too early, and people aren’t ready yet”.

The book talks about free love, a river which overflows its banks, which is above all the concept we associate with love, like desire, possession or betray.

“Love fills everything. It cannot be desired because it is and end in itself. It cannot betray because it has nothing to do with possession. It cannot be held prisoner because it is a river and will overflow its banks. Anyone who tries to imprison love will cut off the spring that feeds it, and the trapped water will grow stagnant and rank”

“Love isn’t desire or knowledge or admiration. It’s a challenge; it’s an invisible fire”

“Love is not a habit, a commitment, or a debt. It isn’t what romantic songs tell us it is-love simply is.………………….No definitions. Love and don’t ask too many questions. Just love.”

“The energy of love can never be lost-it’s more powerful than anything and shows itself in many ways.”

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.’ (Robert Frost)

That’s the path the Witch of Portobello was following throughout her life, until she was brutally murdered.