Veronika Decides to Die – Paul Coelho
In his brilliant novel about the aftermath of a young woman ’s suicide
attempt,Paulo Coelho explores three perennial themes:conformity,
madness,and death.Twenty-four-year-old Veronika li es in
Slovenia,one of the republics created by the dissolution of
Yugoslavia.She works as a librarian by day,and by night carries on
like many single women --dating men,occasionally sleeping with
them,and returning to a single room she rents at a convent.It is a
life,but not a very compelling one.So one day,Veronika decides to
end it.Her failed attempt,and her inexplicable reasons for wanting
to die,land her in a mental hospital,Vilette.
Veronika ’s disappointment at having sur i ed suicide is palpable.She imagines the rest
of her life filled with disillusionment and monotony,and vows not to leave Vilette alive.
Much to her surprise,however,she learns that a fate she desires awaits her anyway:
She is destined to die within a week ’s time,of a heart damage caused by her suicide
attempt.Gradually,this knowledge changes Veronika ’s perception of death and life.
In the meantime,Vilette ’s head psychiatrist attempts a fascinating but provocative
experiment.Can you "shock"someone into wanting to live by convincing her that death
is imminent?Like a doctor applying defibrillator paddles to a heart attack
’s "prognosis"jump-starts Veronika ’s new appreciation of the world around her.
From within Vilette ’s controlled environment,she finally allows herself to express the
emotions she has never allowed herself to feel:hate and love,anger and joy,disgust
and pleasure.Veronika also finds herself being drawn into the li es of other patients
who lead constrained but oddly satisfying li es.Eduard,Zedka,and Mari have been
sent to Vilette because there doesn ’t seem to be any other place for them.Their
families don ’t understand them,and they can ’t adjust to the social structure
that doesn ’t
tolerate their individuality.Each of these patients reflects on Veronika ’s situation in his
or her own flash of epiphany,exposing new desire and fresh vision for life that lies
outside the asylum ’s walls.
Vilette is an asylum in the purest sense of the word:a place of protection,where one is
shielded from danger.In this case the danger is society.Those who refuse to accept
society ’s rules have two choices:succumb to the majority ’s perception that they are
mad,or struggle against that majority and try to find their own way in the world.
The protective walls of Vilette are liberating to its patients,allowing them to explore their
"madness"without criticism or harm.What they discover is both natural and startling.
A novel that starts out as contemplation on the expression of conformity and madness,
turns into a dazzling exploration of the unconscious choices we make each day
between li ing and dying,despair and liberation.