By Joe Herzog
The gruesome sounding title will push many away, but the few that open the book and give it a chance may come out with a new perspective on mental health and life. Veronika Decides to Die is a book written by Paulo Coelho, the author of the New York Times best seller, ‘The Alchemist’. This book is a realistic fiction book that follows a woman named Veronika. Veronika lives in Romania and is unhappy with her life. She isn’t sad, mad, angry or even happy. She feels numb and pointless. So, she decides to attempt to take her own life in the form of an overdose of sleeping pills. Not everything went to plan though. She wakes up in a mental hospital and is soon informed that she lived through the night but only has a week until her heart fails and kills her. This story is about Veronika figuring out the true meaning of life, her emotions and her purpose inside of a mental hospital among many people who are labeled as mentally insane. Along the way she meets many influential characters.
Let’s talk a bit about the author, Paulo Coelho, first. Paulo Coelho has written many interesting and thought provoking books that tell stories of life and ideas of life through fictional characters and their journey. Paulo Coelho has a special connection to the main character of this book though because he was put into a similar situation as Veronika. His parents made him go in and out of mental hospitals because they didn’t understand how he could want to be a writer and artist for a living and thought he was literally insane because of it. But now let’s talk about the book.
This book was insanely good. I personally learned a lot of new perspectives about society and philosophy from this book. It talks and teaches about finding yourself and overcoming your ego through the situations that Veronika goes through. As the story goes on and on Veronika starts to live life more freely. After all, she’s in an insane asylum, and you can do anything you want there without people being surprised or thinking you’re weird. They already think that you’re insane. So, the overall theme and message of this story is a very good one about accepting the pain of life, enjoying it and not holding yourself back from how you feel and what you feel is right.
As far as characters go, there are some amazing and truly captivating ones in this story. Seeing Veronika grow and discover new ways of life and discover more about herself is intriguing and the whole way through you feel a deeper connection to her and want her to become happy. The other patients in the hospital are nothing short of fascinating and unpredictable too. You will truly never be able to guess their reactions and every interaction between Veronika and her peers never gets boring or repetitive. On top of that, the interactions, conversations and experiences she shares with them are what makes her figure out more about herself and she tends to learn from them and start to understand what it means to be free and live happy.
The setting is also very refreshing. The book is set in a small city in Slovenia called Ljubljana. Don’t bother asking me how to pronounce that, because I highly doubt, I will ever be able to truly say it. But the environment that she’s put into plays a big part into her depression and her wish to die at the start of the book. She talks about how it is a cold, bland, neglected country and no one ever talks about it. It makes her feel insignificant and it makes her feel like no matter what she does there, it won’t matter in the end. In terms of the exact environment that she gets put in to, it’s a mental hospital named Vilete. Vilete seemed scary to Veronika at first and she had heard many horror stories of the things that went on inside of the asylum. But she soon adapts to her new home for her perceived last week of life and starts to see it as a place of comfort. A place where she can feel how she wants, do what she wants, act how she wants to, and nobody will shame her or judge her.
One thing about the book that can be difficult for some readers though, is how much random stuff happens. Mainly the actions of her fellow patients. You won’t always understand who they are or why they did what they did. But that builds onto the stories theme of not overthinking life and accepting it for what it is and truly being yourself in the crazy world that we live in.
The book also has many heavy topics and situations (if you can’t already tell from the title) so I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint hearted. It will make you a bit uncomfortable at times. But that’s the whole idea of questioning what’s normal and if we should see the world the way we do right now. Or are we just holding ourselves back from living life to its fullest. Another edgy topic that might make people uncomfortable is things inside the book about astral projection or other advanced topics of spirituality that could make it a more difficult read for younger audiences. I would only recommend this book to young adults and up.
This is where I’ll talk a little bit about the ending of the book, and it will have some spoilers. The book ends with Veronika figuring out that she really isn’t going to die, and that Dr. Igor had only told her that as an attempt at a new way of getting patients to appreciate life due to the fact they think they have no time left. Which forces Veronika to feel all the emotions she’s been holding back for so long. Therefore, I’d like to add to the theme that I talked about earlier and say that the book is also about living in the moment and living like there is no tomorrow.
The book itself will cost you around 10–15 dollars and you can purchase it at your local book store or on amazon. It isn’t too pricey and it was published in 1998 so it’s not in low supply and has been around for years.
At the end of the day, I would give this book a strongly positive rating. I don’t think it’s the book for everyone, but if you’re a young adult/older that enjoys finding new perspectives on life and new philosophy’s, then you’ll love this book and Veronika’s story in the end and will more than likely find it very inspiring.
Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho, published by HarperOne, 240 Pages, price: 14.99