Veronika Decides To Die Summary
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Veronika Decides to Die is a 1998 novel by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. It follows the story of a 24-year-old woman’s attempted suicide and stay at a mental hospital.
The novel takes place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a few years after the break up of Yugoslavia. Veronika is a young librarian with a good life that she nonetheless finds unfulfilling. Though she has a job, friends and family, she feels nothing but apathy toward her life and feels no great draw toward the kind of life that is expected of her. She feels powerless to change her life and feels that things will only get worse as she ages, so makes a relatively passionless decision to end her life in order to find “freedom.” As she waits for the pills to take hold, she reads an article asking, “Where is Slovenia?” (in a meta stroke, the article is stated as being written by Coelho) and decides to write a letter to the editor, justifying her suicide as a reaction to the article’s belittlement of her home country.
Her suicide attempt fails, however, and she awakens in an infamous mental institution called Villete. Her doctor, Igor, tells her that she has damaged her heart so much that she only has a few days to live, which she is expected to live out in the institution. Though initially disappointed by her unsuccessful suicide, as the days continue she finds herself experiencing life more fully than ever before, as she has nothing to do lose. Her actions are uninhibited by other’s opinions and expectations.
While at the institution she meets a number of patients with varied experiences with “madness.” She questions the nature of insanity as she gets to know them. Mari, a wife, mother, and successful lawyer, was treated for intense panic attacks. Though Dr. Igor told her that she could return home, Mari said she wanted to stay to give her husband time to recover for the months of stress prior to her institutionalization. As she, cured of her symptoms, gets ready to leave and resume her life, a colleague tells her that she was being forced to resign. She begs him to let her return, stating “I have lived with two sorts of people: those who have no chance of ever going back into the society and those who are completely cured but who prefer to pretend to be mad rather than face up life’s responsibilities. I want and need to learn myself again, have to convince myself that I’m capable of taking my own decisions.” He remains firm, and she loses her job. Mere days later, a lawyer visits her and informs her that her husband is seeking a divorce. Devastated, she lies and tells Dr. Igor that her symptoms have returned and asks to stay. Though he knows she is lying, he agrees, and Mari becomes exactly the type of reality-avoiding patient she begged her colleague to spare her from embodying.
Another patient, Eduard, is getting treated for schizophrenia. Born to a rich and powerful Yugoslavian ambassador, Eduard was raised to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, after an accident and a stay in a hospital he developed an ambition to paint. His father strongly disapproved, and pushed him to continue his path toward becoming a diplomat. Afraid to further disappoint him, Eduard buried his dream of painting and followed his father’s wishes. However, in the wake of this decision Eduard loses his grip on reality and becomes diagnosed with schizophrenia and ends up at Villete.
As Veronika interacts with these patients, she discovers versions of herself that she didn’t know existed, and that she finds much more compelling and satisfying than her old self. She finds herself playing the piano again, a former passion that she had abandoned, and her sonata attracts Eduard, with whom she falls in love as she never has before.
Zedka, getting treatment for depression, outright states upon meeting Veronika that geniuses such as Einstein and Columbus were thought to be crazy, though they merely “lived in their own worlds.” She is being treated for an obsession over a former lover. Though married with children, she became fixated on tracking him down, and was convinced he was seeking her as well. She directly expresses the novel’s doubts about the nature of madness, stating: ‘…insanity is the inability to communicate your ideas. It’s as if you were in a foreign country, able to see and understand everything that’s going on around you but incapable of explaining what you need to know or of being helped, because you don’t understand the language they speak there.’ ‘We’ve all felt that.’ And all of us, one way or another, are insane.’
As Veronika approaches her final 24 hours, she finds herself reinvigorated by life and tells Dr. Igor she desires to leave the institution in her final hours to see Ljubljana castle and “…give [herself] to one man, to the city, to life and, finally, to death.” However, it is revealed that Veronika was not in fact dying, but that Dr. Igor merely told her that she was in order to attempt to shock her into appreciating her life. The novel concludes with Veronika and Eduard celebrating their life and future together.
Much of the novel is based on the author’s own experiences in mental institutions. As a young man, Coelho was himself institutionalized by his parents three times by age sixteen due to their inability to control him and to attempt to dissuade him from becoming a writer.
A character-driven analysis on the nature of sanity and our society’s pressures to conform, Veronika Decides to Die showcases one woman’s journey toward carving out a meaningful life away from ingrained societal expectations.
Veronica Decides To Die
- Length: 603 words (1.7 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
What is reality? Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines it as: something that exists independently of ideas concerning it; something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive; something that constitutes a real or actual thing, as distinguished from something that is merely apparent. So, what defines reality? I mean can anyone, in all honesty, construct a concrete reproduction in which to turn and point proclaiming once and for all, “There, I give you reality in the flesh.” The answer simply is no. For as, the character, Dr. Igor stated “. . . Other things, however, become fixed because more and more people believe that’s the way they should be (167).” Reality is nothing more than a socially accepted opinion – a perception inherently subjective. This very principle is the driving force behind Paulo Coelho’s introspective novel, Veronica Decides To Die.
Veronica Decides to Die is an interesting story about a young woman called "Veronica" who wants to die but her suicide is not successful and she finds herself in "Villet", a place for the both the insane, as well as, the sane. Although she insists on pursuing the end she has chosen, some events, relationships, and her doctor's trick changes her view toward life.
This novel is colored by the author's intimate knowledge of the world of mental hospitals, the relationships, and the comfort and anxiety of living in such a place. Coelho’s story of insanity and madness in contrast to the monotony of life provokes the feeling of self-discovery and the power of challenging all limitations and traditions. In this atmosphere created by Coelho, you learn that being different doesn't mean being mad and you understand that reality is something the majority deems to be, not necessary the best or the most logical one. It is in the vivid moments of Veronica Decides To Die that you can feel love and religious beliefs are the most important feelings one can have in one's life. You also recognize how one can stop one's feelings like fear, hatred and love and let them emerge in a way which makes one fresh without any "vitrol" (mind's bitterness), the poison believed to be the cause of insanity.
Paulo Coelho first won my heart with his work entitled, The Alchemist, and with Veronica Decides To Die he secured a permanent place there. I must say that this particular novel was, at times, hard for me to read – not for any technical fault on Coelho’s part – because the story being told in many ways is my life.
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Veronica Other Things Paulo Coelho Young Woman Driving Force Concrete Igor Dictionary Hospitals
This bold element of truth employed by Coelho often times feels intrusive and even abrasive, all of which I found materialized for most of my classmates, turning them off. Yet, perhaps this very response validates this clinical illustration of society’s illogical nature. As Dr. Igor later explained, “. . . However, society always imposes on us a collective way of behaving, and people never stop to wonder why they should behave like that . . . (168).” And therefore, reserved for the select few is the invitation to re-examine all the preconceptions by which one allows their life to be governed and then make a change.
Veronica Decides to Die is an odd challenge between life and death. The one, which helps you to realize that every moment of life, is a precious gift--a miracle! Read it once, and you might find the answer of some of your numerous questions about life! While this piece of literature is still very young, when held against Kawabata’s Thousand Cranes and Mafouz’s The Beginning and The End, there is no questioning the future that awaits Coelho and his works.