Veronika Decides to Die: A Novel of Redemption

Veronika Decides to Die: A Novel of Redemption

by Paulo Coelho

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Veronika Decides to Die: A Novel of Redemption by Paulo Coelho

Twenty-four-year-old Veronika seems to have everything -- youth and beauty, boyfriends and a loving family, a fulfilling job. But something is missing in her life. So, one cold November morning, she takes a handful of sleeping pills expecting never to wake up. But she does -- at a mental hospital where she is told that she has only days to live.

Inspired by events in Coelho's own life, Veronika Decides to Die questions the meaning of madness and celebrates individuals who do not fit into patterns society considers to be normal. Bold and illuminating, it is a dazzling portrait of a young woman at the crossroads of despair and liberation, and a poetic, exuberant appreciation of each day as a renewed opportunity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061835438
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/17/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 90,621
File size: 315 KB

About the Author

Paulo Coelho, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, is one of the bestselling and most influential authors in the world. The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, The Valkyries, Brida, Veronika Decides to Die, Eleven Minutes, The Zahir, The Witch of Portobello, The Winner Stands Alone, Aleph, Manuscript Found in Accra, and Adultery, among others, have sold over 175 million copies worldwide, and The Alchemist has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 360 weeks.

Paulo Coelho has been a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters since 2002, and in 2007, he was appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace. He is also the most followed author on social media.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1947

Place of Birth:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Left law school in second year

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

On November 11, 1997, Veronika decided that the moment to kill herself had-at last!-arrived. She carefully cleaned the room that she rented in a convent, turned off the heat, brushed her teeth, and lay down.

She picked up the four packs of sleeping pills from her bedside table. Instead of crushing them and mixing them with water, she decided to take them one by one, because there is always a gap between intention and action, and she wanted to feel free to turn back halfway. With each pill she swallowed, however, she felt more convinced: After five minutes the packs were empty.

Since she didn't know exactly how long it would take her to lose consciousness, she had placed on the bed that month's issue of a French magazine, Homme, which had just arrived in the library where she worked. She had no particular interest in computer science, but, as she leafed through the magazine, she came across an article about a computer game (one of those CD-ROMS) created by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer she had happened to meet at a lecture in the café at the Grand Union Hotel. They had exchanged a few words, and she had ended up being invited by his publisher to join them for supper. There were a lot of people there, though, and they hadn't had a chance to talk in depth about anything.

The fact that she had met the author led her to think that he was part of her world, and that reading an article about his work could help pass the time. While she was waiting for death, Veronika started reading about computer science, a subject in which she was not the least bit interested, but then that was in keeping with what she haddone all her life, always looking for the easy option, for whatever was nearest at hand. Like that magazine, for example.

To her surprise, though, the first line of text shook her out of her natural passivity (the tranquilizers had not yet dissolved in her stomach, but Veronika was by nature passive), and, for the first time in her life, it made her ponder the truth of a saying that was very fashionable among her friends: "Nothing in this world happens by chance."

Why that first line, at precisely the moment when she had begun to die? What was the hidden message she saw before her, assuming there are such things as hidden messages rather than mere coincidences?

Underneath an illustration of the computer game, the journalist began his article by asking: "Where is Slovenia?"

Honestly, she thought, no one ever knows where Slovenia is.

But Slovenia existed nonetheless, and it was outside, inside, in the mountains around her and in the square she was looking out at: Slovenia was her country.

She put the magazine to one side; there was no point now in getting indignant with a world that knew absolutely nothing about the Slovenes; her nation's honor no longer concerned her. It was time to feel proud of herself, to recognize that she had been able to do this, that she had finally had the courage and was leaving this life: What joy! Also she was doing it as she had always dreamed she would-by taking sleeping pills, which leave no mark.

Veronika had been trying to get hold of the pills for nearly six months. Thinking that she would never manage it, she had even considered slashing her wrists. It didn't matter that the room would end up awash in blood, and the nuns would be left feeling confused and troubled, for suicide demands that people think of themselves first and of others later. She was prepared to do all she could so that her death would cause as little upset as possible, but if slashing her wrists was the only way, then she had no option-and the nuns could clean up the room and quickly forget the whole story, otherwise they would find it hard to rent out the room again. We may live at the end of the twentieth century, but people still believe in ghosts.

Obviously she could have thrown herself off one of the few tall buildings in Ljubljana, but what about the further suffering a fall from such a height would cause her parents? Apart from the shock of learning that their daughter had died, they would also have to identify a disfigured corpse; no, that was a worse solution than bleeding to death, because it would leave indelible marks on two people who only wanted the best for her.

They would get used to their daughter's death eventually. But it must be impossible to forget a shattered skull.

Shooting, jumping off a high building, hanging, none of these options suited her feminine nature. Women, when they kill themselves, choose far more romantic methods-like slashing their wrists or taking an overdose of sleeping pills. Abandoned princesses and Hollywood actresses have provided numerous examples of this.

Veronika knew that life was always a matter of waiting for the right moment to act. And so it proved to be the case. In response to her complaints that she could no longer sleep at night, two friends of hers managed to get hold of two packs each of a powerful drug, used by musicians at a local nightclub. Veronika left the four packs on her bedside table for a week, courting approaching death and saying good-bye-entirely unsentimentally-to what people called life.

Now she was there, glad she had gone all the way, and bored because she didn't know what to do with the little time that was left to her.

She thought again about the absurd question she had just read. How could an article about computers begin with such an idiotic opening line: "Where is Slovenia?"

Having nothing more interesting to do, she decided to read the whole article, and she learned that the said computer game had been made in Slovenia-that strange country that no one seemed quite able to place, except the people who lived there-because it was a cheap source of labor. A few months before, when the product was launched, the French manufacturer had given a party for journalists from all over the world in a castle in Vled.

Veronika remembered reading something about the party; which had been quite an event in the city, not just because the castle had been redecorated in order to match as closely as possible the medieval atmosphere of the CD-ROM, but because of the controversy in the local press: Journalists from Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain had been invited, but not a single Slovene...

What People are Saying About This

Lou Marinoff

A deceptively unadorned tale, narrated in a charmingly ironic style, Paulo Coelho plumbs the profoundest depths of mores, madness, and meaning. Thanks to Coelho's literary mastery and philosophical acuity, this engaging novel attains greatness via simplicity—a marvelous achievement!
—(Lou Marinoff, Ph.D., author of Plato, Not Prozac!)

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
In his brilliant novel about the aftermath of a young woman's suicide attempt, Paulo Coelho explores three perennial themes: conformity, madness, and death. Twenty-four-year-old Veronika lives in Slovenia, one of the republics created by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. She works as a librarian by day, and by night carries on like many single women -- dating men, occasionally sleeping with them, and returning to a single room she rents at a convent. It is a life, but not a very compelling one. So one day, Veronika decides to end it. Her failed attempt, and her inexplicable reasons for wanting to die, land her in a mental hospital, Vilette.

Veronika's disappointment at having survived sucide is palpable. She imagines the rest of her life filled with disillusionment and monotomy, and vows not to leave Vilette alive. Much to her surprise, however, she learns that a fate she desires awaits her anyway: She is destined to die within a week's time, of a heart damage caused by her suicide attempt. Gradually, this knowledge changes Veronika's perception of death and life.

In the meantime, Vilette's head psychiatrist attempts a fascinating but provocative experiment. Can you "shock" someone into wanting to live by convincing her that death is imminent? Like a doctor applying defibrillator paddles to a heart attack victim, Dr. Igor's "prognosis" jump-starts Veronika's new appreciation of the world around her. From within Vilette's controlled environment, she finally allows herself to express the emotions she has never allowed herself to feel: hate and love, anger and joy, disgust and pleasure. Veronika also finds herself being drawn into the lives of other patients wholead constrained but oddly satisfying lives. Eduard, Zedka, and Mari have been sent to Vilette because there doesn't seem to be any other place for them. Their families don't understand them, and they can't adjust to the social structure that doesn't tolerate their individuality. Each of these patients reflects on Veronika's situation in his or her own flash of epiphany, exposing new desire and fresh vision for life that lies outside the asylum's walls.

Vilette is an asylum in the purest sense of the word: a place of protection, where one is shielded from danger. In this case the danger is society. Those who refuse to accept society's rules have two choices: succumb to the majority's perception that they are mad, or struggle against that majority and try to find their own way in the world.

The protective walls of Vilette are liberating to its patients, allowing them to explore their "madness" without criticism or harm. What they discover is both natural and startling.

A novel that starts out as contemplation on the expression of conformity and madness, turns into a dazzling exploration of the unconscious choices we make each day between living and dying, despair and liberation.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Veronika claims to have chosen suicide in order to achieve "freedom at last. Eternal oblivion." What would make freedom and oblivion so appealing to a twenty-four-year-old woman? What is significant about the use of the word "decides" in the title?

  2. Although Veronika's story takes place in the former Yugoslavia, are there any elements of the novel that are universal? To what extent is Veronika's situation a result of living in a country such as Slovenia--a small country, that few people have heard of--but that nonetheless has a significant, and recently violent, history?

  3. Of the four patients at Vilette that we come to know -- Veronika, Zedka, Mari, and Eduard--with whom, if any, do you identify, and why?

  4. What has each of these characters learned during his or her time at Vilette? How do you think they will do in the "outside" world?

  5. Veronika asks, "In a world where everyone struggles to survive whatever the cost, how could one judge those people who decide to die?" Do people have a right to approve or disapprove of suicide? Do we have a moral obligation to stop someone from trying to kill himself? Can the decision to commit suicide ever be considered rational?

  6. How does Veronika react to Dr. Igor's news that she is suffering from a fatal heart disorder? Why would someone who wants to commit suicide be devastated by the thought of dying?

  7. What do you think of Dr. Igor's theory about Vitriol, the name he gives to a "disease of the soul" that affects people who have grown embittered? Do you recognize evidence of Vitriol in people around you? Is the condition widespread?

  8. How do you feel about Dr. Igor's experiment on Veronika? Was it morally justifiable?

  9. On hearing the news that she is soon to be released from Vilette, Zedka reflects, "Once in a mental hospital, a person grows used to the freedom that exists in the world of madness and becomes addicted to it. You no longer have to take on responsibilities, to struggle to earn your daily bread, to be bothered with repetitive, mundane tasks." And yet, she wants to leave. What enables Zedka as well as Eduard, Mari, and Veronika to decide that they will be able to survive outside Vilette's walls?

  10. Has reading this novel changed your perception of what it means to be mentally ill? Do you think Paulo Coelho's novel is an allegory? If so, what is the journey all about?

Customer Reviews

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Veronika Decides to Die: A Novel of Redemption 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 136 reviews.
hoonew More than 1 year ago
If you have ever felt so sad that life didn't seem worth living, this may be a book for you. Mr. Coelho pulls the reader back and forth through the character's life gradually offering answers to Veronika's mindset and behavior. I found myself pondering several of these ideas and seeing a sunnier side as an observer. We get so deeply entrenched into our own views, our own questioning, and society's expectations that we feel alone and overwhelmed in a way. Not suggesting to read this if you have suicidal thoughts! Seek help immediately. But for many, many of us who have had the dark thoughts cross our minds or have wondered about others who have, this is a great work of fiction that helps draw out reality.
lc_dakr810lire More than 1 year ago
This novel is higly relatable. It's about a woman that dreads and despises her own routine-filled life. She tentatively lives her life day to day consumed with overall feelings of misery and suffers from a severe case of depression. As the title avers, Veronika decides to die, however, she fails attempting to. This novel is a deeply stimulating, eye opening novel. It depicts the life of a troubled woman and how in the end she gains an immense appreciation for her life because she realizes, after all, that life is imminent.
taty43 More than 1 year ago
It is a good book, makes you think about your life and the things you really want to do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hesitant to read this book at first considering the amount of negative veiws, but I am so happy I allowed myself to be the judge. It is a short read, but stays with you. The title sounds dark, however it is one of the most enlightening books I have ever read. A must read.
Erosthiest More than 1 year ago
My favorite book of all time. Definitely a great read whenever you're down or depressed
Bookaholic_Cindy More than 1 year ago
Update: 22 January 2018 I came across this book that I had read in 2012 and decided to give it another try. The past 6 years in my life haven't been the greatest and I guess my taste in books has changed also. I truly enjoyed reading it. It takes place in an asylum so yes, it's sad but also a beautiful story. I loved the connection between Veronika and Eduard with her playing the piano. An all around touching story. Glad that I decided to give this novel another read! 2012 Review: My 2 stars says it all, it was okay. Evidently just not my kind of book. I wanted to like it but it was just okay.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TedsReview More than 1 year ago
Buy Before You Die A loaded, layered story that has the power to bring peace to your soul; ironically, it's sure to be deemed shocking by many institutionalised members of society. Freud's 'Theory of Sex' meets narrative; it delves deep into the human psyche and questions social 'norms'. A provocative piece of art whose multi-dimensional prose will move each reader subjectively. The themes may be uncomfortable for some but nonetheless poignantly real and refreshingly different. Superficially it's simple; its strengths are not the plot, more the layering beneath. Don't expect the blatant twists you'd find in a standard novel; this isn't one. Coelho has skilfully weaved a plethora of treats into the book for the reader to discover, should they be open to them. It's highly metaphorical tale that works it's magic both retrospectively and momentarily. The characters are well realised and very, very human. The writing style is quirky yet sincere. The keen translation seems to capture nuances very well. To note, the (2000 ed.) paperback has a pleasing size and feel. This book is for everyone; whether they fully appreciate it will depend on where they're at. A recommended read at least once in your lifetime. Give it a shot, welcome its calming affect and be prepared to read it again and again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing, though at times the main character's actions to find the truth about herself and who she is may be a little excentric. The book is all about what it means to be mad/crazy and how the mad view the so called sane people. I know that this book has forever changed my way of thinking and I will never forget it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i ihope i like like it like you people say it good """"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is mother has always said this is one one her top favorite books in the whole world and now i see why.somehow this book kinda speaks to me and really gets to me.not only is the author one of a kind but this story only 14 years old and i caan honestly say this book will be with me forever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing novel about life, death, and mental illness. The language of the novel is so well done and the characters are unforgettable.
hunneypreader22 More than 1 year ago
At first I wasn't sure I liked this book, but decided to stick with it a little longer. I am GLAD I did - it is a surprising, moving, and amazing book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
L-Golightly More than 1 year ago
Read this book twice already. Highly recommended.
Vita_Brevis More than 1 year ago
While the title may cause some people pause, it lays out the focus facing the main character. I am not going to follow a discussion of the plot as I don't want to ruin any portion of the book for you. As we follow Veronika throughout this story we see her growth while acceptancing her plight. She tests her new found boundaries while at the same time more fully understanding her own limits. This is a novel that calls all of us to evaluate the limits we place on ourselves and realize the maybe there is a better place for ourselves in this world if we just push our own self-imposed boundaries. Just a couple of other notes on the story. Because of this book I am going to search out others by author Paul Coelho. Also, I would highly recommend this novel to book clubs to read, review and discuss.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It made me think, and I appreciate that.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books love it a must read