Living life – even when you don’t want to

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In “Books I Loved” I will share with you one of my beloved books. The ones that have touched me for one reason or another and remain with me always. No reviews or critique, just pure book love in the hope of perhaps helping someone find a new piece of their book soul.

I remember reading “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho in high school and thinking it was an odd book. At the time, I was not one for open endings or too much philosophical thought, so while I didn’t dislike it, I was never as taken as many others with what is considered to be Coelho’s masterpiece.

The following year – when I had left home and moved abroad for the first time – I stumbled across another of his books at the local bookstore. It was a slim, blue volume and the strange title intriuged me enough that I decided perhaps Coelho was worth another try. Unlike its predecessor, “Veronika decides to Die” took my breath away! I had no idea what to expect, didn’t know the premise of the story and I was absolutely swept up in Veronika’s experiences, thoughts and heart-breaking tale.

“Veronika decides to Die” is the story of a young woman who, despite having a seemingly perfect life, decides to commit suicide. In the first pages of the book, she is already lying on the bathroom floor having taken a massive amounts of pills. However, Veronika is saved before she dies and is instead admitted to a mental institution – among all kinds of strange, sick, interesting, scary and loving people. As the days pass, and despite her initial indignation at being treated as a crazy person, Veronika comes to learn about love, sadness, grief, joy, heartbreak and life from the so-called insane inhabitants of the asylum.

Veronika

While Coelho’s trademark storytelling weaved with philosophical thought in “Veronika decides to Die” is to me one of his best tales, there is no doubt that much of the book’s impact lies with a big “twist” in the story – there is something more to Veronika’s stay at the asylum than both she and the reader first assume. And while it is relatively quickly revealed, it brings an additional and much more profound level to the thoughts and message of the story. I think that in some versions of the book, it is actually mentioned on the blurb what that “twist” is, which I think is a great shame – so I recommend that you read the book if you can without looking at the back 🙂

I really like Coelho and for many years I considered him a favourite author. Unfortunately, I was a bit frustrated with some of his later novels and their too obvious and almost preachy philosophy, but “Veronika decides to Die” remains one of those books that I will recommend to anyone. And I think more than anything, that that is its strength – I cannot think of a single person who would not take something from this book. Whether it’s the unusual story, the philosophical thoughts or just the ode to life and joie de vivre, I really believe that everyone would appreciate this tale of a young woman inadvertently and almost against her wish finding a little scrap of what this thing we call life is all about.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho, published in 2000 by Harper Collins

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