Veronika Decides to Die
Author: Paulo Coelho
“If one day I could get out of here, I would allow myself to be crazy. Everyone is indeed crazy, but the craziest are the ones who don’t know they’re crazy; they just keep repeating what others tell them to.”
The fundamental question that the author puts forth on is what madness actually is. We all seem to have ideas on what madness is, but Coelho’s book provides an answer which we all know but have a kind of fear or hesitation to implement it.
But yes, what is madness? Creating our own world and choosing to live in it, without concern about other things that do not matter. That what madness is. Thus, puts Einstein, Columbus, even Edmund Hillary and the Beetles on the list of madmen. To quote in words of one the characters, ‘All of us, in one way or another, are mad.’
The narrative begins with Veronika, an attractive 24-year old Slovene musing on her life just after she swallows sleeping pills in an attempt to commit suicide. The reasoning she gives herself for this is the monotous act she has to perform on each and every day of her life. The reasoning she leaves behind for others is that it was extremely saddening for her that an French journalist had begun an article with the rather words: ‘Where is Slovenia?’
Veronika ends up in the Villete, the infamous Slovenian mental asylum. She meets fellow patients Zedka, who is suffering from chronic depression, Eduard the schizophrenic, and Mari, a lawyer plagued by panic attacks. She soon learns that the intake of a very heavy dosage of sleeping tablets had damaged her heart to such an extent that death is inevitable at the current point.
In the course of her stay, she develops a relationship with Zedka – not friendship, as the author notes – and concludes that her words have deep philosophy embedded within them. S She also bonds with Eduard; her piano-playing skills deeply pleasure the young schizophrenic. What suddenly stabs at Veronika is the realization that she has fallen in love with Eduard: primarily because once she is gone, he would be one who would not miss her. Love, hate, curiosity, sexual desires and the wish to live start clouding her. She finds her time at the Villete to be an emotionally enriching one.
Dr Igor- the doctor in charge of the asylum- has been portrayed as an ambitious psychiatrist, who works hard on his thesis which, he believes, will revolutionise the psychiatric world. He considers ‘Vitriol’ or Bitterness to be the poison responsible for madness. Bitterness, he believes, poisons a man in a way that he ceases to have the will to either live or to die. He gets a much-awaited chance to test his cure for ‘detoxification’ when Veronika arrives at the Villete. As the story unfolds, it is revealed at the end that Veronika has actually been cured of all damages to her physical being, and she is healthy as anyone could be. This fact had been hidden from her purposely by the doctor. By means of a drug, he continued to induce in her the symptoms of heart damage in an attempt to eliminate Vitriol.
He achieves this seemingly impossible task by employing his belief (and the title of his thesis) ‘an awareness of death encourages us to live more intensely’. The twist in the tale comes when Veronika escapes the asylum with Eduard, without the knowledge that she is healthy and has long to live. Dr Igor finds out about her escape on the very morning when he plans to notify her about her health; yet he relishes the fact that Veronika, unaware that she is fine again, would live each day as a miracle.
The book makes for an absorbing read. Anyone who wishes to dig in deeper into his own being and is, at the same time, willing to let his thoughts run free would find this book to be an enriching experience. An international bestseller authored by the famed Paulo Coelho and translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. Thus the author forces us to ponder upon the things we all know, and which we should see them with a whole new light.
People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.