the witch of portabello by paulo coelho

I began reading Paulo Coelho’s 2007 novel The Witch of Portabello because of the Being Latino Book of the Month group on Facebook. This month they’re reading Junot Diaz’ The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I’ve read that book. So when I received Coelho’s book in the mail after purchasing for last months assigned reading for the group I thought why not read. The book is not on Sergio Troncoso’s suggested reading list I’ve been following but I thought I’d take a chance.

What I liked about the book had to be the risk Coelho took with the form. The book is organized around the main character of Athena—we find later they are transcripts from interviews with those closest to Athena. Nothing directly from Athena other than dialogue in other characters’ transcripts/testimony. We learn in the beginning Athena has been murdered and perhaps the interviews are to explore the death and mystery.

What I didn’t like was that the chapters and those characters speak very similarly. They have different perspectives but the language seems so similar. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the novel was translated from Portuguese. The characters were also very overly dramatic and I wonder if that too was due to translation. At any rate the tone throughout is similar and for transcripts they create some pretty detailed scenes and interactions that were hard for me not to criticize. Many of the conversation become in depth philosophical and New Age meditations rather than character studies. I also felt bogged down in exposition—the way I felt overwhelmed by story in Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera. The difference being that book is a more unique character study. That has to be my second biggest complaint. My biggest complaint has to be the trick ending. I won’t give this away but the ending left me groaning. The way an episode of a poorly plotted television show makes me groan.

Next time I won’t stray from Troncoso’s suggested reading list.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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