Saturday, May 30, 2015

VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE: Why Is Madness More Important Than Normality

A woman named Veronika decides to end her life. She carries out her decision. Veronika didn’t die. Her life changes forever.

Paulo Coelho’s inspiration has provided the world several mind-opening and uniquely appealing books, like The Alchemist and The Fifth Mountain. [I only included the names of two that touched my life; there are many more that readers like me might have felt close to their heart].

Someone saved Veronika and took her to a psychiatric institution named Villete. At the institution, Veronika realizes the difference between madness and normality. In Villete, many men and women get treatment for their psychological problems. The institution itself stands as a sign of the unquestionable status of normality. Normal is acceptable. Any aberration from normality is pitted against the harsh criteria of judgment that pronounces people mad.
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Mari, an inmate realizes at the end that “life inside is exactly the same as life outside.” Another character, Eduard finds his madness and starts living with it, accepting his true self. Veronika’s life passes through stages she never dreamed of before.

Veronika Decides to Die takes readers to a world of madness that co-exists with the world we have created with our intention for normality. Paulo Coelho takes his readers to an interesting discussion on following one’s true and higher intentions as opposed succumbing to conformism imposed by one’s society. Villete as a closed space with only mad people permits any behavior that is out of normal. Veronika realizes this and starts learning that many times she tried to live her life only to satisfy a norm or criteria put forth by someone else. Paulo Coelho has mastery over human mind when he writes about such topics as “living our lives to the fullest” and “chasing a dream”. The world has witnessed and submitted itself to this mastery in Paulo’s renowned bestseller, The Alchemist. Veronika Decides to Die shows this master writer’s capability to instill in his readers thoughts of self-evaluation.

Often, the norms imposed by our society and parents limit our personal growth as well as the growth of our consciousness. Every individual is stuck by the thought of what would happen to his or her reputation if called mad by the society. The characters in Veronika Decides to Die are specimens of such a society. These characters have fears and insecurities that engulf our enthusiasm at a very early age in life, to explore, to fight our good fights, and to dare to dream. Veronika Decides to Die helps an intellectually active reader to realize that being called mad openly or being labeled mentally abnormal has an advantage. This advantage lies in the fact that every one of us, once being called mad, never risk the stigma involved in being mad again. This status liberates the individual to perform beyond his routines.
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Paulo Coelho also appears in Veronika Decides to Die as the author of this book, in the first couple of chapters. He relates his own experience of being admitted to a mental asylum and thus renders elements of autobiography to this novel. Veronika Decides to Die, like most of Paulo’s works, teaches its readers a deep philosophical lesson. The didactic purpose of the book envelopes the reader with the apprehension that not just mental asylums or being admitted to one, but also every other challenge in life against living a meaningful life should be taken as an opportunity to lead oneself to that very meaning of life.

Those who are interested in knowing more about Paulo’s experiences with mental institutions Confessions of A Pilgrim by Juan Arias would be a good source. Theater has adaptations of Veronika Decides to Die. A movie was also made on this novel in 2009. Paulo Coelho wrote Veronika Decides to Die originally in Portuguese language. Margaret Jull Costa translated Veronika Decides to Die into English. One of my friends remarked when she saw this book in my hands that she read a translation. I replied that I too am reading a translation. This book is originally written in Portuguese, I said. Oh, then she corrected herself, I mean I read it in its Malayalam translation.

I am convinced that the best judge of the quality of a translation is readers’ comments. A reader’s feelings about a book asserts a book’s quality, however na├»ve that method may sound. My colleagues in the academia might not agree with me here. But I must say that you are free to disagree from what I agree upon.

There is more to it. I talked about Veronika Decides to Die to many people, before reading the book and after. Most of them made one specific comment in common about the book. As the book was about one specific subject it was not unusual for them to touch upon it, I thought.

Veronika Decides to Die haunts their mind, they said. One of them even said that this book instills the desire to commit suicide. I consider that at precisely this point, the book takes off into another level; goes onto reach a much larger canvas, that of higher consciousness. When one thinks about it, the idea appears clear in mind. It is not the book, as such, that prompts thoughts of hopelessness or anxiety, but the ideas that appear in this book. Like Veronika herself, the reader realizes the uselessness of a life controlled by routines. Most of us experience the same in employment or in family. Veronika realizes that it is not merely enough to please the authority at work and follow the routines. And so does the readers. 

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