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Veronika is twenty-four. She has beauty, a good job, a lover, a family… but there is something missing. The void inside her grows until she makes the ultimate decision some of us have secretly whispered to ourselves then dismissed out of sheer terror. Veronika decides to die. She settles down with her bottle of pills and concentrates on savouring the delicious moments between intention and action as she swallows one pill at a time. Then comes the darkness, every so slowly, then… nothing.

Veronika Decides to Die

“In order to appreciate life, one must taste death…”

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.

I give it 4.5/5 stars (because ‘The Alchemist‘ deserves the full 5!)

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