Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho [book review]

"When she had achieved almost everything she wanted in life, she had reached the conclusion that her existence had no meaning, because everyday is the same. And she had decided to die."

Veronika seems to have a perfect life: she's young and beautiful, she has loving parents, she has a decent job in a library. One day, she decides to end her life. She found her life dreary and monotonous, there is nothing more to look forward to. She writes a last note and overdoses on pills. Though, she survives and wakes up in Villette, a mental hospital. The doctor tells her that the overdose has done irreparable damage to her heart and that she only has a week at most to live.

She had expected a quick way out but has to prolong her agony for a few more days before dying. In her last days, though, she meets other people in Villette who are also similar to her: living a perfect life on the outside but has inner struggles that led them to the mental hospital. There's Zedka, who has depression. Mari, a successful lawyer who had quit her job due to panic attacks. Eduard, a young man diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"If she wasn't careful, she might end up convinced that life is worth living, and that would cause her pointless pain, since she would soon have to leave this world anyway."

In her last days in Villette, she decides to do whatever she wants, things she did not think of doing before. Ironic that in the restricted environment of a mental hospital, she experiences the freedom to be herself. Since the residents are considered to be ill, they are free to do what they want, even things that might be seen as 'mad' by the outside world. She allows herself to feel anger. She plays the piano, an instrument she hasn't touched since she was very young. She even opens herself to sexual experiences she wouldn't have dared before.

Unknown to Veronika, she is inspiring the other patients who know she is dying to live their best life while they are alive. We also learn about the lives of Zedka, Mari, and Eduard. Of all the other characters in the book, Eduard's story hit me the most. His father is an ambassador, so he grew up with the expectation that he would soon work in the same "respectable" and professional field. Instead, Eduard realized his love for art and decided to be a painter. A girlfriend also made him interested in spirituality, to the disappointment of his parents. His parents soon admitted him to the hospital when he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. In Villette, he is very quiet, and Veronika and Eduard form an understanding through her piano playing.

“Anyone who lives in her own world is crazy. Like schizophrenics, psychopaths, maniacs. I mean people who are different from others."
"Like you?"
"On the other hand," Zedka continued, pretending not to have heard the remark, "you have Einstein, saying that there was no time or space, just a combination of the two. Or Columbus, insisting that on the other side of the world lay not an abyss but a continent. Or Edmund Hillary, convinced that a man could reach the top of Everest. Or the Beatles, who created an entirely different sort of music and dressed like people from another time. Those people — and thousands of others — all lived in their own world.” 

Dr. Igor, the Villette's head psychiatrist, is also an important character and he adds humor and insight to the patients and their lives there. He's the one who told Veronika about her condition, and he observes her during her remaining days. In his conversations with patients, they try to think of and make sense of what is called 'insanity' or 'sanity'. Even through their various issues, illnesses, and problems his patients have, we see that they realize the value of life.

Veronika's arrival somehow shakes the patient's lives, and unknown to her, just by being true to herself, she is making others think of their life and make what changes they still can. Though it is quite a morbid thought that it took a dying girl for them to want to live their lives to the full. Veronika tries to make the most of her remaining time, and eventually discovers meaning in her life.

Villette as a place is also interesting. It is a mental hospital on the outside, but inside is like a strange, new, fascinating world. It is like one stop in the spiritual and healing journey of those who pass by. Anyone who has ever thought of ending your life, or mental illness, or the sadness and suffering that comes with being alive,  this book is very relatable and gives much hope to keep going. Veronika Decides to Die, despite the title, is a book affirming life.

“Collective madness is called sanity.”

“You are someone who is different, but who wants to be the same as everyone else. And that in my view is a serious illness. God chose you to be different. Why are you disappointing God with this kind of attitude?”

Thoughts on the author and story
Paulo Coelho as a younger man
Paulo Coelho is a very popular author, and his books frequently deal with spiritual and mystical themes. I think of him as a sort-of modern Kahlil Gibran. I only read this one, The Alchemist, and Like the Flowing River. I started The Pilgrimage but I couldn't finish it. I read The Alchemist way back in high school and I really loved it - it's more of a fantastical allegory, and I can say that it's one of those timeless and 'classic' books. Reviews of his more recent works didn't really make me want to seek out his works, but I do admire him as a writer and person.

Some elements of Veronika decides to die is derived from the author's own experiences. Paulo's real-life story is quite similar to Eduard's story, and the author himself has been admitted to mental hospitals. The meditations and questions about insanity in the book rings true, I feel like the author may have seriously considered such thoughts.

There are some things in the book I don't like, though. Veronika and Eduard's relationship didn't have much development. There was a weird sexual scene between them that tries so hard to be mystical but just comes out weird and it just made me cringe. Compared to Mari and Zedka, Veronika's character felt flat.

The book still has that inspiring message to live the best life we can, the life we want for ourselves and not just how society or our peers tell us to live. I am starting to paint and take art seriously, so I read this book at just the right moment. This book made me interested in the author again and my mother is a big fan of his and has several of his books, so I might check them out one of these days.

“I want to continue being crazy; living my life the way I dream it, and not the way the other people want it to be.”

Post a Comment