Copyright © Louise Bostock 2007-2013. Please give credit where credit is due.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Book Notes No. 26 : Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho

Overcast and sultry at nine o'clock. Storm at three o'clock.

Once upon a time, I had a very good friend. He was a blond-haired, green-eyed Sabra, and back in the 80s we had many adventures together in lots of strange and exotic places. He was full of philosophy, and wanted above all to make people think about their lives. About their lives ticking away. He would ask virtual strangers (and prospective co-adventurers), "Tell me, if you had only three months to live, what would you do?" The answers almost invariably involved a 'dream', the thing each person wanted to do most - to travel the world, to see Pavarotti at the Opera House, to meet the Pope, to quit work and paint, to spend every minute with their children. And his invariable answer was : "You could die tomorrow. What are you waiting for? Do it now!" A variation of that familiar saying, inexplicably ascribed to James Dean, "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."

Having caught a fleeting glimpse of the Grim Reaper grinning at me from the door of the A&E only a couple of months before I met the Sabra, his question struck me at the time as particularly pertinent.

In his 1999 book, Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho's heroine doesn't want to live forever. In fact her ennui, her boredom with herself, the lack of passion and meaning in her life is so great that she takes an overdose in a genuine attempt at suicide. She wakes up, not in heaven or hell, but in the local psychiatric hospital, where the vaguely sinister Dr Igor is experimenting with various more-or-less questionable methods of controlling and/or curing psychosis.

She wakes up, though, with only a few days to live.


This is the story of Veronika's (re-)discovery of life, of living life fully, and of her ultimate rejection of death. In the final analysis, Dr Igor's cure for Veronika's malaise is awareness of death. Living as if we are immortal can spell death-in-life. Walking hand-in-hand with death, says Coelho, we become more alive to the business of living and living well.

It's a simply-written story and one that's translated without fault. It touches not only on how we can live today as fully as possible, but also on the nature of madness, and, at the same time, on the terrible acts perpetrated upon some people (the author, it seems, included) in the name of a cure.

Vintage Coelho. And it makes me wonder whether the green-eyed Sabra ever met the scribbling Carioca on his travels, and if he did, what the Carioca's answer was...



3 comments:

Alan Burnett said...

Sounds interesting. It will go on my "to read" list

Vanessa said...

I don't know about Paolo Coelho. I was wowed by The Pilgrimage and, of course, The Alchemist, but these days I find his books very simplistic. Perhaps it's just that I'm getting older and, I hope, wiser, and he just doesn't speak to me any more like he used to.

ladyfi said...

I'm not a great Coelho fan.. but I must admit that this sounds fascinating!

But I'm even more fascinated by your answer to the Sabra and your adventures with him!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Book Notes No. 26 : Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho

Overcast and sultry at nine o'clock. Storm at three o'clock.

Once upon a time, I had a very good friend. He was a blond-haired, green-eyed Sabra, and back in the 80s we had many adventures together in lots of strange and exotic places. He was full of philosophy, and wanted above all to make people think about their lives. About their lives ticking away. He would ask virtual strangers (and prospective co-adventurers), "Tell me, if you had only three months to live, what would you do?" The answers almost invariably involved a 'dream', the thing each person wanted to do most - to travel the world, to see Pavarotti at the Opera House, to meet the Pope, to quit work and paint, to spend every minute with their children. And his invariable answer was : "You could die tomorrow. What are you waiting for? Do it now!" A variation of that familiar saying, inexplicably ascribed to James Dean, "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."

Having caught a fleeting glimpse of the Grim Reaper grinning at me from the door of the A&E only a couple of months before I met the Sabra, his question struck me at the time as particularly pertinent.

In his 1999 book, Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho's heroine doesn't want to live forever. In fact her ennui, her boredom with herself, the lack of passion and meaning in her life is so great that she takes an overdose in a genuine attempt at suicide. She wakes up, not in heaven or hell, but in the local psychiatric hospital, where the vaguely sinister Dr Igor is experimenting with various more-or-less questionable methods of controlling and/or curing psychosis.

She wakes up, though, with only a few days to live.


This is the story of Veronika's (re-)discovery of life, of living life fully, and of her ultimate rejection of death. In the final analysis, Dr Igor's cure for Veronika's malaise is awareness of death. Living as if we are immortal can spell death-in-life. Walking hand-in-hand with death, says Coelho, we become more alive to the business of living and living well.

It's a simply-written story and one that's translated without fault. It touches not only on how we can live today as fully as possible, but also on the nature of madness, and, at the same time, on the terrible acts perpetrated upon some people (the author, it seems, included) in the name of a cure.

Vintage Coelho. And it makes me wonder whether the green-eyed Sabra ever met the scribbling Carioca on his travels, and if he did, what the Carioca's answer was...



3 comments:

Alan Burnett said...

Sounds interesting. It will go on my "to read" list

Vanessa said...

I don't know about Paolo Coelho. I was wowed by The Pilgrimage and, of course, The Alchemist, but these days I find his books very simplistic. Perhaps it's just that I'm getting older and, I hope, wiser, and he just doesn't speak to me any more like he used to.

ladyfi said...

I'm not a great Coelho fan.. but I must admit that this sounds fascinating!

But I'm even more fascinated by your answer to the Sabra and your adventures with him!