This book really stirred me. Veronika is a young, pretty woman who has a life with nothing to complain, and yet she decides to end it, only because it was too plain, simple, and without much meaning. Rather than go through the same mundane experiences every single day, she decided to die. Having plunged into the deep trenches of death's hug, she shoots all the way up from the depths and then ironically struggles to escape from death's touch. The book is about her journey. And an interesting element is that her journey takes place inside a mental asylum, into which she gets admitted because of her seemingly lunatic attempt to end her life.
As with his other books, Coelho tries to get across the message that one needs to stop suffocating from the rules, norms and impositions of society. Through stories of some of the asylum's inmates, he questions what normality is, and the price people pay to contort their lives to fit the accepted template prescribed by humanity and religion. This line of thought, resonates with mine - I've often pondered on how the line between sanity and insanity is far more blurry than we assume. Sometimes the territory beyond the boundary of "normality" is nothing but a realm of genius and level of consciousness that escapes the limitations of average human understanding. Many great minds have been ridiculed as insane, eccentric and crazy, only because people restrained their power of thoughts, possibilities and imaginations.
It always makes me uneasy when I have to acknowledge the disastrous effects of a deranged mind. It makes me twice as much uncomfortable when I have to acknowledge that the mind is indeed very flimsy and can snap if pushed beyond it's capacity. The book deals with the issue of people becoming recluse and living in their own worlds, if they are forced to alter their true self to fit expectations from parents, society and religion. I found it very interesting that the asylum was deemed as a safe and tolerant paradise by most of the inmates. Contrary to the real world, the security of total anarchy and lack of judgement that the asylum promised was comforting to people as they could express their true innermost self, without being ashamed or fearful. After all, nurses and doctors expected "craziness" and didn't complain if there were "abnormal" behaviors. This helped some people realize their true self, through unabashed expression. To some, it was a haven of escapism, away from the cruel realities outside the glass walls. In some ways, it was hard to define which was more real - life inside the walls, or the world outside.
Having resigned to death and failed, Veronika had faced the "near-death-experience." Having failed once, was she prepared to plunge into death's arms again? This was a question she was trying to answer - she started realizing that it was nobody's fault that she hadn't found meaning in life. In fact, she started discovering quite a few things about herself, which were safely locked and buried deep inside. When she started releasing that trapped spirit from inside of her, her longing to live life deepened. And such a close encounter with death, is shown as a cure to those who complain about lack of meaning in their lives - it helps them look at their lives in a different light and identify those aspects that were pushed into the dark. The turn of events in Veronika's life proved not just a valuable lesson to her, but to many people in the asylum, lost in their own worlds.
Although the book starts off with a lot of pessimism, towards the end it slaps people out of their pessimism and mundane existence and urges us to create our own meaning in life, and live it to the fullest.