Veronika Decides to Die



For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I did not intend to include two different books by the same author in my list.  In fact, it had been my intention that if there were two books that I felt important enough to include, that I would include the author, and reference the works as part of the blog post.  Well, best laid plans of mice and (wo)men and all that.

Paulo Coelho describes Veronika Decides to Die as being an autobiographical novel, but I don’t think he has ever revealed how much of the novel is factual.  It would be understatement to say that Coelho’s parents didn’t approve of his literary aspirations.  They had him committed to a mental institution while he was still a teenager.  He escaped multiple times before he was released at age twenty.

As the book opens, the title character has decided to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.  Her attempt fails, and she wakes up in a mental institution.  She suffers from a series of cardiac events and is told that her heart was irreparably damaged in the attempt, and she is living on borrowed time.  Through her interaction with other patients, Veronika learns passive refusal to live is the same thing as actively choosing to die, and she had been guilty of both.  Eventually, she decides to choose life with all of its pain and uncertainty than to surrender to despair.

I encountered this book at a particularly dark time in my life when I struggled with the repercussions of my past, felt trapped, defined, and bound to it with no hope of redeeming it.  In this novel, I found not a panacea, but a kind of roadmap, a guide, if you will, to help me learn how to engage life rather than flee from it.




A is for Art


It seems that I’m becoming more comfortable with embracing challenges these days. With that in mind, I’m embracing the A – to – Z Blogging challenge, by writing about the things that I most closely associate with being alive, when I show up and engage with life as fully as possible.

And with that, I give you:


My favourite painting is Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. I had the opportunity and privilege to see it hanging on the wall at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia and I am not ashamed to say I wept when I first laid eyes on it. The canvas is enormous, measuring almost 7’ by 9’ but its impact on me was bigger than that. Time stood still for me and when the clock started ticking again, I was a different person. It still captures my heart and mind and imagination.

I never understood abstract art in general or Picasso in particular until I saw “Guitar, 1913.” And then I got it. It was a sketch of a guitar but it was a guitar deconstructed, reduced to its most basic elements, geometric simplicity. Abstract art makes me see. I can’t just look at it and expect it to make sense. I have to observe and let it speak to me. I have to be patient, and wait, and open my eyes. I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone else, but I have to be present with the work and let it lead me. It isn’t something I can necessarily control but, much like writing, I have to show up and do the work and wait.

I don’t pretend to know or understand all the technical terms associated with art. I know I tend to like the Impressionists. I know that I laughed at Dali’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy (I know, it’s kind of weird, but some of them were hysterical). I know that Rembrandt moves me to wonder. I know that I’m in love with Reubens. I know that I find Caravaggio interesting as all get out. I know that Russian painters in general are under-rated. Beyond that, all I know is that art makes my heart sing and makes me want to linger and let time stand still.