Veronika is an ordinary girl in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. She lives a quiet life at her rented room in a convent, has a job in a library, has a mother who loves her, has friends to hang out on weekends. Is she happy? No. Is she unhappy? No. Well, how is she, then? She isn’t feeling anything, and that is why she decides to die, by swallowing dozens of sleeping pills one night before going to bed. The problem is, the pills didn’t work as she’d expected. Instead of going either to heaven or hell, she ends up at Villete, an asylum which was just opened in Slovenia.
According to thefreediroctorydotcom, asylum is “an institution for the care of people, especially those with physical or mental impairments, who require organized supervision or assistance”. We used to call it a place for mad or insane people. But in the case of Veronika, do you think she’s insane? Before the suicide attempt, I bet her friends would have said that Veronika looked like a normal person; she wasn’t depressed or sad about anything. But all the same, she ends up in Villete, marked as an insane.
As soon as she awakes (the book doesn’t tell us how or who has helped Veronika from the suicide attempt), the doctor tells her that she has a heart disease and can only survive for a week. During that time she learns a lot about what we used to call insanity. She meets Zedka—a woman who is on treatment for depression; Mari—a female lawyer who suffers from panic attack; Eduard—a young man with schizophrenia who loves to listen on Veronika’s piano playing at the hall; and many others with similar condition. Why did they all end up in Villete? It’s not because they have something lose in the head, but because they are different from others, from the world.
People like Veronika used to be normal like us, but they lack the power of being themselves. People or institutions often expect us to be like what others are. The problem occurs when we have ideas that are different with the world BUT don’t have the power or ability to fight others’ expectation. In the end we become someone else. This second ‘me’ is created upon others’ expectation just like a robot. She/he doesn’t feel happy or unhappy. They just do what they are expected to do. In the end there is numbness in their souls, and this condition leads to mental disorder we often call insanity.
Dr. Igor, the Head of Villete is having a research to find the cure for the bitterness which infects most of the asylum, the bitterness which he called Vitriol. Vitriol is the culprit of these insanities. When Veronika arrived in Villete, Dr. Igor knew he must grab the chance to make his final experiment. And indeed, Veronika, along with her own battle has helped Zedka, Mari, and Eduard to rethink about leaving Villete—where they are confined in the safety from having to adapt to the world who ignore them—and finding their own selves, which have been confined under their ‘second’ me’.
It is very interesting to read about psychology thing like this, and Paulo Coelho is indeed a good story teller. But I see the matter a bit differently from Coelho’s perspective (as I gather from this book). I agree that one must be brave to be oneself; as men are created uniquely by God. But that doesn’t give one rights to do or to get what one wants. Life always has a limit. A limit from God—that is consciousness; a limit from government; a limit from others who have authority towards us: parents, boss, etc. One can’t just kick that barriers and do what one wants only under pretext of delivering one’s freedom to be oneself. Sometimes we just have to compromise. We don’t always know what is best for us, nor our parents either.
Let’s take Veronika case: she wanted to be a pianist, but her mother forbade her and asked her to finish school. If she obeys she couldn’t make her dream, but if she disobeys she feels guilty to disappoint the mother who loved her. If I can advise Veronika, I’d tell her to compromise; to change her way of thinking. If it possible, Veronika can still work in the Library (hey…I would love that opportunity very much!), and join a music group or something, so that she can still play piano, while financing her family. Sometimes, we do not know what God planned for us. Maybe, selfish it was, our parents’ wish was what God had wanted us for. Maybe it’s the best way for us to lead a better life.
So, in the end, not getting what we want is not always a defeat; we still have the power—the power to decide what we will do. I wanted to be a dancer when I was in junior high school, but my parents disagreed because it’s not a promising career for me. I then worked as a secretary (until now), and I believe it’s the best decision for my own good. It’s just the way of thinking, to know that I have chosen to let go of my dream because I trusted my parents and loved them. And now I always try to love my job as a secretary, although I can’t say 100% that I love it! :)
Three and a half stars for Veronika and Coelho.
Three and a half stars for Veronika and Coelho.
I read Indonesian translation from KPG (Gramedia Group)
*This book is counted as:*
11th book for 2013 TBR Pile Challenge
17th book for What’s In A Name Reading Challenge 2013