Veronika Decides To Die by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho’s life is the canvas on which all his books have been painted. Literally. He uses metaphors, signs, and characters just like an artist’s symbols on canvas. The picture that he paints in words can be interpreted differently by different persons. Some find his books simplistic, some find a profound message in it. Coelho has been through the mental institution’s rigmarole at a young age. He has been backpacking half the world like a hippy. Deeply influenced by the Sufi ideology, his books come across as cryptic treatises of some message that can be deciphered by those who are ‘ready’.



Author : Paulo Coelho
Originally Published : 1998
Publication :
Pages : 210
Genre(s) : Novel, Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy, Quest

This book has several characters, some sane, some not so sane, but they know the true meaning of life in their minds. Coelho says it’s a novel of redemption.

Veronika is from Slovenia. She lives in a Convent and decides to take her own life by consuming sleeping pills. To while her time, she writes a letter to the publication of the magazine that has an article titled ‘Where is Slovenia’ by Paulo Coelho. She wants to die for two reasons- one, that everything in her life was the same and would deteriorate further with age. And two, that everything in the world was wrong and she couldn’t right it.

As the medicine works, she gets unconscious only to wake up at Villette, the asylum for the lunatics. There, she meets Zedka who appears completely sane but is in fact battling chronic clinical depression, Mari- the older woman who has been aggressive in their first encounter but goes on to introduce her to Sufism, whose followers try to find the meaning of life. The Sufi master at the asylum teaches the inmates mindfulness. Veronika starts getting better. She even starts liking Eduard who’s there because he’s a Schizophrenic. He’s good looking, educated and sensitive. He’s the only one who understands that Veronika is an artist. But he doesn’t understand that she loves him. One night as she begs him for pleasure and he just wants to listen to her play the piano, she satisfies himself as he looks on. That sets in a tirade of liberation in her mind. She feels pleasure like never before. The doctor tells her she may have 24 hours left. She wants to make the most of them and asks for two favors, to stay awake and to leave the asylum. But by then, Veronika’s zeal for life has impacted the others at the asylum. Mari wants to make the mistakes she always wanted to make. Eduard wants to go out and venture the world he wanted to. But the asylum people shock him to delete short term memory of dreams and thoughts of going out. Mari asks the doctor to allow her to leave. He tells her that she is someone who is different but wants to be like everyone else. Mari is allowed to leave Villette.

Eduard tells his story, Son of an American Ambassador to Brazil, he meets with an accident on his bicycle and the injury causes a rare kind of schizophrenia in him- he has visions of paradise. He paints the abstract visions with gusto. That night, the four of them are not at Villette. Zedka has been released, Mari has got discharged, Veronika is not there and Eduard, maybe still recuperating from the electric shock.

But Eduard and Veronika have escaped and are in town drinking wine and making merry. The doctor has finally found the solution to the vitriol that was housed in the people’s minds- awareness of life.

Key takeaways

  1. Having been in a mental asylum himself, Coelho knows what it is to be there and its environments
  2. His description of lunacy and insanity leaves you wondering who is the real insane- that person who knows the meaning of life or the one who has lost it. And why have they swapped places? The former lay in the asylum while the latter move freely in the world.
  3. Coelho narrates a brilliant picture of people searching for meaning in life and what impact finding that meaning has on people’s lives. It’s a great take on encouraging everyone to find the purpose of life so it becomes meaningful
  4. Through the interwoven lives of the characters, we get to see how we impact others and get impacted in turn by positivity or negativity. What would we choose to radiate?

Why I recommend this book

Because it speaks of sanity through the eyes of the perceived insane. Because Coelho is a master storyteller when it comes to giving subtle messages seeped in Sufi ideology. He knows that the meaning of life lies in the purpose we choose. Once lost, that is akin to death. For him, death is when we forget to live, not when our breathing stops.

Read the book for its magical passages of prose that touch upon love, life and insanity, and everything in between.


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