History: This book was written in 1998.
Plot: Veronica is a beautiful young woman from Ljubljana, Slovenia who appears to have the perfect life, but nevertheless decides to commit suicide by ingesting too many sleeping pills. While she waits to die, she decides to read a magazine.
After seeing an article in the magazine which wittily asks "Where is Slovenia?," she decides to write a letter to the press justifying her suicide, the idea being to make the press believe that she has killed herself because people don't even know where Slovenia is. Her plan fails and she wakes up in Villete, a mental hospital in Slovenia, where she is told she has a week to live.
Her presence there affects all of the mental hospital's patients, especially Zedka, who has clinical depression; Mari, who suffers from panic attacks; and Eduard, who has schizophrenia, and with whom Veronika falls in love. During her internment in Villete she realises that she has nothing to lose and can therefore do what she wants, say what she wants and be who she wants without having to worry about what others think of her; as a mental patient, she is unlikely to be criticized. Because of this newfound freedom Veronika experiences all the things she never allowed herself to experience, including hatred and love.
In the meantime, Villete's head psychiatrist, Dr. Igor, 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 victim, Dr. Igor's "prognosis" jump-starts Veronika's new appreciation of the world around her.
Review: Veronika does decide to die, but it doesn’t mean she succeeds. Somehow she wakes up to find herself inside a mental institution and the knowledge that she has damaged her heart so badly that she only has a few days left to live. Veronika is now faced with the prospect of ‘waiting’ for death; a much different approach to the whole thing, but nevertheless she still gets her initial wish. However, as the days shorten and her resolve wans, Veronika starts seeing life in a different light. Existence begins to bother her, the beauty of nature shines through the grey Ljubljana mornings, when suddenly one day Veronika wakes up and realises with horror that things are changing inside her… that in the face of death, her survival instincts have begun to take hold.
This was the first Coelho book I ever read, and like all his books it is simple to read. Coelho doesn’t overcloud or embellish his words unnecessarily. Instead, the focus of the book is firmly upon Veronika and her feelings, which in this case, are actually quite complex. To begin a story with a suicide attempt is a sure-fire way of gaining your readers attention, as Coelho well knows. But it is Veronika’s progress as a lost young woman trying to find her niche in the world that drew my attention. Coelho’s efforts to document these psychological transitions are admirable. I often found myself thinking that if I were in her place, that’s exactly how I would feel/ think/ act.
‘Veronika Decides To Die‘ is not such a long book. It weighs in at about 200 pages, but it does make one feel grateful to be alive. This is a book I would recommend to anyone who has ever thought of suicide. I believe it has the power to draw many people away from that dark thought. Existence is a gift. Whether one thinks it is holy or not is entirely up to them, but life really is a blessing, a miracle, a cosmic phenomenon. Coelho points out in his novel that a change in perspective, no matter how slight or dramatic, can often tie a falling person tighter to the thread of life.
Opening Line: “On November 11, 1997 Veronika decided the moment to kill herself had at last arrived.”
Closing Line: “He would leave the reports on the building’s the lack of security until later.”
Quotes: “The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.”
“Haven't you learned anything, not even with the approach of death? Stop thinking all the time that you're in the way, that you're bothering the person next to you. If people don't like it, they can complain. And if they don't have the courage to complain, that's their problem”
Rating: Philosophically Good.