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.




Eleven Minutes



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?

Here is my first departure from the books of my childhood that turned me into a lifelong reader.  The fact that it had such a tremendous impact on me, speaks as much to the author as to the work itself.

On the surface, Eleven Minutes tells the story of a young Brazilian woman who has been trafficked to the sex industry in Europe, but like many of Paulo Coelho’s works, it goes deeper than that.

Eleven Minutes is the tale of one of the most complete redemptions of a person’s painful past I’ve read.  It is allegorical, to be certain, and highly so, but the emotional truth Coelho brings to the story is extraordinary, taking Maria from disillusioned young woman to dispassionate and hardened prostitute, and finally to a woman who has learned to be vulnerable again.

Coelho’s skill in relaying this tale in a way that doesn’t seem the least bit salacious, and yet also managing to avoid clinical sterility only serves to bring a compassion and sensitivity to Maria’s story that couldn’t help but encourage me to engage my own conflicted history with love and sex.

Sensitive, unapologetic, deeply human, and willing to address difficult subjects.  Writing like this is what keeps me reading.