Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

Sarah Michelle Gellar portraits with emotion the Veronika I had always imagined. -- Paulo Coelho

LoveRing II by Valhalla One day, ironically after meeting Paulo Coelho, Veronika decides to die. She takes sleeping tablets one by one, slips into unconsciousness, then wakes in Villete, a much feared mental asylum in Slovenia, to be told her heart has suffered irreparable damage and she will die in five days time.

To while away the time whilst she is waiting for the pills to kick in, Veronika reads an article in a magazine, where the writer, obviously thinking it is a smart thing to say, asks where is Slovenia? The last act of Veronika as she slips into unconsciousness is to pen a letter to the magazine.

Like many of us, Veronika lives a mediocre, meaningless life, a life with no meaning, no purpose. That is why she decides to die. In Villete, she learns what it is to be mad, and how madness can liberate one to be oneself.

It was not depression that made Veronika decide to die. She is attractive and enjoys life, but she sees the endless years of monotony stretching before her. She was twenty-four, she had enjoyed life, but her youth was now passing her by. What more had life to offer her? On a more philosophical level, she did not like the ways of the world, she felt powerless to do anything about it.

Many of the people in Villete are there of their own volition. Yes, they are mad, but in Villete, their madness is acceptable, they can do as they please because they are mad.

Reading works by Paulo Coelho, it is often difficult to know, is one reading a novel, a personal memoir, or a mix of both.

In Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho is referred to in the third person. Is this Paulo Coelho the writer, author of Veronika Decides to Die, or a different Paulo Coelho?

Paulo Coelho was three times committed to a mental institution where he was subjected to electro convulsive therapy. He wanted to be a writer, his parents thought he was mad.

On leaving the mental institution for the last time, Paulo Coelho vowed to write of his experiences, but only after the death of his parents.

On learning of the experience of Veronika through a friend, he decided to use it as the opportunity to put his own experience into words. Paulo also discusses this painful period in his life during conversations with Juan Arias (the closest we come to a biography) and in a documentary prouduced by Latin America Television. [see Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim and El Alquimista de las Palabras]

What does it mean to be mad?

Regimes lock away dissidents on the grounds they are mad. They must be mad as they fail to recognise the Utopian society they are living in.

A powerful wizard wanted to destroy a kingdom. He placed a magic potion in a well. Everyone who drank of the well went mad. The exception was the king and his immediate family who had their own private well. Concerned at the loss of public order, the king issued edicts to restore public order. The chief of police who had drank at the public well refused to obey the edicts as he thought the king had gone mad. The citizens were convinced the king had gone mad as he was issuing nonsensical orders and resolved to remove him from the throne. The king only survived by drinking from the well of madness. Order was restored, the subjects revered the king who displayed such wisdom.

Parents think their children to be mad if they fail to comply with their wishes.

Veronika Decides to Die is a tale of despair, but also of hope. It is also a tale of Impossible Love.

We are all in our own personal prison of conformity. If we allowed ourselves to be a little bit mad, we could be ourselves, follow our destiny, follow the example of Santiago in The Alchemist.

Veronika Decides to Die is the second novel in the And on the Seventh Day trilogy. The other two being By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and The Devil and Miss Prym.

Veronika has seven days in which to live after a unsuccessful suicide attempt. Pilar has seven days in which to save her soul. Miss Prym is engaged in a fight with the Devil, an epic struggle between Good and Evil, seven days in which to save the village of Viscos.

The Church has a big taboo on suicide. If God exists and he made such a mess of life on earth, would he complain if we chose to exit early, maybe he owes us an apology?

If God exists ... He will know that there are limits to human understanding. He was the one who created this confusion in which there is poverty, injustice, greed and loneliness. He doubtless had the best of intentions, but the results have proved disastrous; if God exists, He will be generous with those creatures who chose to leave this Earth early, and he might even apologise for making us spend time here.

In many countries suicide is, or was until recently, a criminal offence. Suicide wasn't decriminalised in England until 1961.

The film of Veronika Decides to Die, a film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as Veronika and directed by Bafta award winning director Emily Young, was due for release some time during 2009. Its first showing was in Brazil on 21 August 2009. It is unfortunate that American bums on seats has dictated that the film be set in New York and not the original location of the novel, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

There is a bitter irony in not setting Veronika Decides to Die in Slovenia. A key question, which Veronika ponders as she is dying, is where is Slovenia? It is an ironic question as few know where is Slovenia.

Slovenia was once one of the five republics of the former Yugoslavia, now an independent country, not to be confused with Slovakia, once one half of the former Czechoslovakia.

Synchronicity: I tuned into Thinking Allowed on BBC Radio 4 and heard a very interesting discussion on the social stigma of those left behind. Veronika put much effort into the manner of her suicide as she wished to minimise the suffering of those she left behind.

Copies of Veronika Decides to Die have been registered as BookCrossing books.

BookCrossing books are released into the wild and their progress checked on the Internet via a unique BookCrossing ID (BCID).

The lovely picture used to illustrate this page was supplied by Valhalla to Paulo Coelho. [see LoveRing II]

For my Russian friend Alissa who recommended that I read Veronika Decides to Die, my Polish friend Aga who wished to read, my Czech friend Iva who I recommended to read and my lovely Russian friend Polina to who I gave a copy as a present and Valhalla who kindly supplied the lovely picture.
Books Worth Reading ~ Paulo Coelho
(c) Keith Parkins 2007-2009 -- August 2009 rev 8