Wednesday, June 22, 2011

THE WITCH OF PORTOBELLO by Paulo Coelho ✰✰✰✰

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.

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