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Veronika Decides to Die

The new novel from internationally acclaimed author Paulo Coelho -- a dramatic story of love, life and death that shows us all why every second of our existence is a choice we all make between living and dying. Veronika has everything she could wish for. She is young and pretty, has plenty of boyfriends, a steady job, a loving family. Yet she is not happy; something is lacking in her life, and one morning she decides to die. She takes an overdose of sleeping pills, only to wake up some time later in the local hospital. There she is told that her heart is damaged and she has only a few days to live. The story follows Veronika through these intense days as to her surprise she finds herself experiencing feelings she has never really felt before. Against all odds she finds herself falling in love and even wanting to live again...

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mad. The result was utter confusion, and the press were consmntly publishing tales of ill-treatment and
abuse, although they had never been given permission to visit Villette and actually see what was
happening. The government was investigating the complaints, but could get no proof; the shareholders
threatened to spread the word that foreign investment was difficult in Slovenia, and so the institution
managed to remain afloat, indeed, it went from strength to strength.

'My aunt killed herself a few months ago," the female voice continued. 'For almost eight years she was
too afraid to even leave her room, eating, getting fat, smoking, taking tranguillisers and sleeping most of
the time. She had two daughters and a husband who loved her."

Veronika tried to move her head in the direction of the voice, but failed.

'I only saw her fight back once, when her husband took a lover. Then she kicked up a fuss, lost a few
pounds, smashed some glasses and—for weeks on end—kept the rest of the whole neighbourhood
awake with her shouting. Absurd though it may seem, I think that was the happiest time of her life. She
was fighting for something, she felt alive and capable of responding to the challenges facing her.'

'What's all that got to do with me'? thought Veronika, unable to say anything. "I'm not your aunt and I
haven't got a husband."

'In the end, her husband got rid of his lover,' said the woman, 'and gradually, my aunt returned to her
former passivity. One day, she phoned to say that she wanted to change her life: she'd given up smoking.
That same week, after increasing the number of trancjuillisers she was taking because she'd stopped
smoking, she told everyone that she wanted to kill herself.

No one believed her. Then, one morning, she left a message on my answerphone, saying goodbye, and
she gassed herself. I listened to that message several times: I had never heard her sound so calm, so
resigned to her fate. She said she was neither happy nor unhappy, and that was why she couldn't go on.'

Veronika felt sorry for the woman telling the story, for she seemed to be doing so in an attempt to
understand her aunt's death. In a world where everyone struggles to survive whatever the cost, how
could one judge those people who decide to die?

No one can judge. Each person knows the extent of their own suffering, or the total absence of meaning
in their lives. Veronika wanted to explain that, but instead she choked on the tube in her mouth and the
woman hurried to her aid.

She saw the woman bending over her bound body, which was full of tubes and protected against her
will, her freely expressed desire to destroy it. She moved her head from side to side, pleading with her
eyes for them to remove the tubes and let her die in peace.

"You're upset,' said the woman. 'I don't know if you're sorry for what you did or if you still want to die;
that doesn't interest me. What interests me is doing my job. If the patient gets agitated, the regulations say
I must give them a sedativef

Veronika stopped stniggling, but the nurse was already injecting something into her arm. Soon
afterwards, she was back in a strange dreamless world, where the only thing she could remember was
the face of the woman she had just seen: green eyes, brown hair, and a very dismnt air, the air of
someone doing things because she has to do them, never guestioning why the mles say this or that.

Paulo Coelho heard about Veronika's story three months later when he was having supper in an Algerian
resmurant in Paris with a Slovenian friend, also called Veronika, who happened to be the daughter of the
doctor in charge at Villette.

Later, when be decided to write a book about the subject, be considered changing his friend's name in
order not to confuse the reader. He thought of calling her Blaska or Edwina or Marietzja, or some other
Slovenian name, but he ended up keeping the real names. When he referred to his friend Veronika, he
would call her his friend, Veronika. When he referred to the other Veronika, there would be no need to
describe her at all, because she would be the central character in the book, and people would get
in'itated if they were always having to read 'Veronika the mad woman,' or 'Veronika the one who tried
to commit suicidel Besides, both he and his friend Veronika would only take up a very brief part of the
book, this part.

His friend Veronika was horrified at what her father had done, especially bearing in mind that he was the
director of an institution seeking respectability and was himself working on a thesis that would be judged
by the conventional academic community.

'Do you know where the word "asylum" comes from? she was saying. 'It dates back to the Middle
Ages, from a person's right to seek refuge in churches and other holy places. The right of asylum is
something any civilised person can undersmnd. So how could my father, the director of an asylum, treat
someone like that?"

Paulo Coelho wanted to know all the details of what had happened, because he had a genuine reason
for finding out about Veronika's story.

The reason was the following: he himselfhad been admitted into an asylum or, rather, mental hospital as
they were better known. And this had happened not once, but three times, in 1965, 1966 and 1967. The
place where he had been inter-ned was the Dr Eiras Sanatorium in Rio de Janeiro.

Precisely why he had been admitted into hospital was something which, even today, he found odd;
perhaps his parents were confused by his unusual behaviour, half-shy, half-extrovert, and by his desire to
be an 'artist*, something that everyone in the family considered a perfect recipe for ending up as a social
outcast and dying in poverty.

When he thought about it—and, it must be said, he rarely did—he considered the real madman to have
been the doctor who had agreed to admit him for the flimsiest of reasons (as in any family, the tendency is
always to place the blame on others, and to state adamantly that the parents didn't know what they were
doing when they took that drastic decision).

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