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Veronika Decides To Die vBy Paulo Coelho vReview by Scott Sobocinski, Yankton Community Library Who is Veronika, and why does she want to die? Both questions are answered right in the first chapter of this book by Paulo Coelho, an internationally bestselling author most famous for The Alchemist. Veronika is a young and beautiful woman living in Slovenia, working as a librarian (woo!), and her life is on the up and up. However, the trouble with her bright future is that she can clearly picture the rest of her life, and it makes her want to skip to the end. As she consumes 4 packs of sleeping pills, and a dark void and a strange sense of empowerment washes over her, she knows that she’s escaped her depression, and a sequence of societyapproved behaviors that she is reluctant to call “her life.” When Veronika awakens in a psychiatric hospital strapped to a bed, she learns that her suicide worked, but not with the intended effect. Her heart has suffered irreversible damage, and she will die at some point in the next few days. What follows is an experimental psychological treatment, along with her failed attempts to interact as little as possible with the other patients in the hospital. They are intrigued by Veronika, and initiate 28vHERVOICEvSEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 conversations with her that seem irrational on the surface, but cause her to question her life and everything she thought she knew. For example, one mental patient claims that “collective madness is called sanity,” and that “normal” behavior could be any type of behavior, as long as enough people are accepting of it. Inspired by the other mental patients, Veronika uses her last days on earth to speak out and act out like she never has before. This book is a whirlwind of revelations about life, sanity, and human emotion. There is humor and sadness, conviction and angst, regrets and fantasies, and of course, the flatout weird. There is one sexual episode that is very awkward, and is one of Veronika’s most vulnerable, yet empowering moments. With nothing left to lose, she gets comfortable enough to explore her soul and embrace the messy things that make us human. Veronika may be dying, but she also discovers what it means to live. Coelho is a master at exploring emotional landscapes, and I wondered how he could write such believable characters. Then I learned he was once a mental patient himself. Coelho was born into a very traditional family in Brazil in the late 1940s, and living under an oppressive military government, his insatiable desire to read (and to write) concerned his parents, and was seen as severely antisocial behavior. For this, his parents committed him to an asylum when he was just 17 years old, where he escaped a number of times before being officially released at the age of 20. If you’re looking for something that celebrates the inner lives we all have, then stop at the library for this book, or others written by Paulo Coelho! n

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