Friday, January 30, 2015

3. Veronika Decides to Die

So I finished TWO books this week, and I'm well on my way into two more. Considering that, until this week, I had finished 2 books all year, I’m calling it a major win. The snowstorm that wasn’t really a snowstorm still kept me inside all day, and I am grateful that I got some work done at least. Unfortunately, my #ThrowbackThursday was marred by a migraine, so that post didn’t get up. I’ll save the topic for next week instead.

Today’s post is on another 1001 book. It was interesting, compelling, and there was a lot going on underneath the surface of the narrative. I also had the benefit of many people in my life reading the book before me, so I have people to discuss it with :D

With that in mind, the third book of Project 84 is:

Veronika Decides to Die

Veronika Decides to Die 
by Paulo Coelho

I’m going to start this entry with a story. When I was starting Project 84 last January, I bought my mother some of my planned books for Christmas. She was excited about the prospect of the blog, and I liked the idea of giving her a ‘preview’ of sorts, so that she could read the books before I blogged about them.

One of those books was Veronika Decides to Die.

Well, my mother read the book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. She said it made her think, and was excited for me to read it so we could discuss. She then passed it along to my father, who also enjoyed it, and wanted to know my thoughts on it.

About 9 months later, I’m finally getting around to sharing those thoughts.

Veronika Decides to Die is one of the more modern novels from 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It’s also translated from Portuguese – which can be a somewhat innocuous statement, but some feel (including my father) that the language was stilted as a result. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s important to mention.

The plot grabbed me right away. A young Slovenian girl named Veronika aims to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills. She awakes in the hospital about a week later, her suicide attempt “unsuccessful”. However, the doctors inform her that she has irreparable damage to her heart, and despite the fact that she lived through the suicide attempt, she will die within the next few days. She spends those days in an institution, getting to know her fellow patients.

The novel is marked by two intersecting themes. The first centers on Veronika – and can be whittled down to “what would you do if you had 3 days to live”. That concept is compounded by her situation, and becomes, “what would you do if you had 3 days to live, but had wanted to die 3 days ago”. It’s an interesting idea to consider. The thought that you don’t really know what “living” is, or how much you want to live, until you’re faced with your impending demise.

And the language he uses to describe Veronika’s inner turmoil is so beautiful. An example of when she is starting to appreciate life speaks to that inner turmoil:
“The music, however, was leading her elsewhere: Empty your mind, stop thinking about anything, simply be. Veronika gave herself up to the experience; she stared at the rose, saw who she was, liked what she saw, and felt only regret that she had been so hasty.” – Page 103
The second concept isn’t really about Veronika at all. In the book, Coelho profiles some of the other patients in the mental institution, and gets into the Myth of Mental Illness idea. In other words, are people “crazy” because they suffer from an actual malady, or are they “crazy” because they don’t conform to society’s standards of what is “normal”?

If you want my opinion – and maybe you don’t, but you’re reading my blog, so you’re going to get it – the answer to both questions is “yes”. As someone who’s suffered with anxiety throughout my life, and who has gone through a hefty amount of therapy, I think it’s both. I think much of mental illness is a real malady, and some of it is a societal desire to make you “fit”.

In other words, in my case, a panic attack is legitimately debilitating, and something that I would want to, for lack of a better word, “fix”.  And I have, for the most part. However, the anxious feelingsI “suffer from”, in many ways, are just part of who I am. People might not like to deal with that anxiety, and I may feel badly about myself because I am “abnormal”, but there’s also an aspect of “well, that’s how my brain works. It may not be the same as 75% of the world” (I have no idea what the stats are on anxiety) “but that’s ok. This is my lot, and what I live with.”

OK, that got loftier than I intended. Let’s get to the recommendation. If I were you, I would read Veronika Decides to Die. It’s an easy read thanks to the translation, and thought provoking – as you can probably tell from this post. Even if you’re not interested in mental illness, or suicide, it’s a fascinating character study.

So, there we go. I’m not sure this is my favorite post I’ve ever written. I couldn’t quite get my thoughts clear enough, and I think it came out jumbled and pretentious. The amount of adverbs point to that.

But I hope you got something out of this one. Like I mentioned earlier, I just finished another book, and I’m hoping to have it written up by tomorrow. If not, then definitely by Sunday!

Next Review: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (Expected Posting Date: Saturday, January 31st)

**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Veronika Decides to Die, published by Harper in 2000**

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