Veronika decides to die was published in 1988 by the critically acclaimed author of “The Alchemist”- a book that still hits hard decades later. The novel, inspired by real events in Paulo Coelho’s life, chronicles a young woman’s journey from an attempted suicide to her stay in a mental facility.
It is set in the independent Slovenian republic and revolves around the lives of the different patrons of the facility and their imminent search for meaning. Originally published in Portuguese, the novel focuses on a suicidal main character and the effects of her life on the people around her.
I have to admit that I picked up this book with a lot of bias to the author, and I was not disappointed. As a principle, I have a preference for novels written by fairly known authors. In my mind, I embark on a sort of publicity spree for these writers. However, I had read the alchemist, but for some reason, I was yet to reader another novel by Paulo Coelho. So, when the opportunity to read “Veronika decides to die” presented itself, I jumped at it with hands open; and I was not disappointed. A characteristic feature of Paulo Coelho’s writing that has endeared him to my heart is his presentation of rather complex plots and subplots in a very simplistic way.
I have read other reviews of Paulo Coelho’s works and these reviewers seem to have a problem with his stylistic approach to presenting ideas, and I simply do not agree with them. I believe the key to literature that endures the rigours of massive public acceptance is in constructing a work of art that appeals to even the least educated of us; this by all standards does not apply to professional texts.
I particularly loved this novel because on some level, I can relate to Veronika’s plight. On the surface, she is obviously “blessed”. Looks, money, brains, and men come generally easy to her and yet the emptiness remains. It is sort of like when a little cup is placed in the bottom of a large tumbler, and then wine is poured into the cup rather than the tumbler. So, when the cup is full, the tumbler is still empty by half; but then people would look at the overflowing cup and think- “Ooh, it’s overflowing!” According to her, her impending suicide is well justified.
This informs the reader that unlike the general assumption that suicide or suicidal thoughts are brought about by a person’s inability to handle great pain, sometimes it is not pain that is the problem. Neither is it overflowing joy. because then that would be really crazy. Sometimes, it is just the lack of feeling. That numbness that spreads through the body when you least expect it, and the feeling of helplessness.
Sometimes that is just the problem. I especially love Veronika because apart from her spunky and bold side, she eventually learned to be vulnerable. She teaches that sometimes it is good to let the flood gates open and to lose one’s self to the sensations that surrounds us. Sometimes it is just good to soak up the energy of the earth and breathe in the wonder that is feeling.
When she gets admitted into the Psychiatric home, Villette, that is when she realises that she can get more out of life. Note that she does not come to this realisation by observing others and thinking that her life is quite better; she realises this when she sees the walls that have suddenly come a tad too close to her and her bold side surfaces to explore. Her exploration eventually forges the path for others to walk in, or rather walk out of the hospital. Although I do not approve of the intentional deception by Dr. Igor, the managing psychiatrist, I have to commend him for being the one to ignite the sleeping embers of Veronika’s passion.
Like any other novel by the critically acclaimed author, this is one is not lacking in other intricate characters necessary to the build-up of the novel. One of the very first characters we meet is Zedka, a patient in the psych ward. Zedka, whom was in the hospital because of her depression, had led quite the tumultuous life. From a scandalous affair with a married man to single-handedly attempting to destroy her marriage, she had fallen deep into the well of depression. Zedka is then determined to prove to Veronika that we are indeed all crazy.
I realised that, in a way, Zedka was right. What does “crazy” actually mean? Am I crazy for thinking differently? Or are they all crazy for thinking the same way? We all have problems running around in our heads, does it make us crazy for moving around dwelling on these problems? What then differentiates us from the others that decide to forsake polite society and try to fix their problems? These are a few of the questions I asked myself while reading, you will definitely have a lot to think about when you are done reading this book.
My next favourite person from the book is- you guessed it, *drum roll*- Eduard!!!
This patient was sent to this hospital for treatment by his parents after he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is an illness that is mainly characterised by delusions, abnormal behaviour, inconsistent thinking patterns, and oversensitivity to touch and hearing. His aristocratic parents were convinced that he was indeed mentally ill when he decided to move away from his carefully trimmed diplomatic career trajectory and involve himself in artistic pursuits. He was dumped by his parents whom felt they could no longer take good care of him. What I like the most about Eduard are his dreams. Ironically, these dreams are the exact things that threw him in the hospital
Like a piece of cloth that refused to be stuck completely in a bottle, he dared to dream despite the many constrictions placed on him by society. His dreams are stifled by parents whom cannot bear the embarrassment of having a son that talks about visions. Visions? To be honest, I realised this must have been how Karl Marx and all the other revolutionaries must have felt. Karl Marx in particular because he came from a rich home, but he was at the press, newspapers, clubs, schools, talking about a world where an oppressed class would no longer exist. Imagine talking about all this right as industrialisation sweeps through Europe and its environs. Imagine how stupid and crazy he must have looked. Or imagine Einstein talking about making a bulb that was supposed to contain a thousand candles and it would never go off. Imagine being his father and hearing him rant. Think about him crouched over his dozens and dozens of textbooks and crumpled papers, constantly muttering to himself about making this… this bulb thingy.
Another person of interest is Mari. Mari admitted herself into the hospital when her panic attacks became unbearable. Again, it is the helplessness and not fear that caused this. As she stared wide-eyed at the hungry kids in a documentary while at the cinema with her husband, all the frustration she felt as an attorney barraged through her very existence and tried to squeeze the life out of her. Even though it had been a long time since she had last had any panic attacks, she stayed on in the hospital. The hospital was life a safe place; in this safe place, everybody was free to do as they pleased. It did not matter if you felt like you were actually a Jew that had survived the holocaust and was reincarnated, the hospital was a safe place for all of them to manifest.
I especially love the growth I saw in every character. I love that Mari’s thirst and hunger for life were rejuvenated and again she wanted to fly. She did not only want to be in the midst of people but she wanted to find her very own equilibrium doing everything she had ever loved or wanted to do. Eduard finally seeing his vision in a new light, and it came in the form of a bouncing 24-year-old once again willing to fight for her life although she had been told she was terminally ill.
Yes, as far as medical diagnoses go, Dr. Igor is very accurate. I especially loved that he removed the all-knowing science cap and took a look at the world around us. With a dash of science, a handful of fake diagnoses, some sleepless nights and early workdays, he was able to find the virus responsible for the influx of patients into the psychiatric home- vitriol. I cannot give more information about this because that would mean a major reveal [ definitely unethical], so go read the book.
If by now you are not convinced this book is a fit for you, that is okay. There are plenty of books in the bay. However, trust me on this one. It has all my five stars [and more if the worldwide body of rating systems would not penalise me, I would definitely give it a 10].
So, you can read this book here. Now that we are on the topic, if you do not have a sribd account, I advise you to get one. If you use this link, you can get 2 months of free reading and it does not stop at books. There is a wide library of audiobooks, documents, magazines, and even sheet music to browse through. So, hurry sign up and get reading.