Living in Ordinary Time
Book review - Veronika Decides to Die, by Paulo Coelho
Twenty-four-year-old Veronika seems to have everything -- youth and beauty, boyfriends and a loving family, a fulfilling job. But something is missing in her life.
Don’t be put off by the title of this book; *SPOILER ALERT*: the subtitle is “A Novel of Redemption.”*
Like all of Paolo Coelho’s books, this is a story more about life than about death, and so I thought it appropriate to discuss at the end of May, as we transition from Easter to Ascension to Pentecost and beyond, to summer and so-called “Ordinary Time.”
In his blog from 2008, Coelho describes the trilogy: “Each of the three books is concerned with a week in the life of ordinary people, all of whom find themselves suddenly confronted by love, death and power. I [Mr. Coelho] have always believed that in the lives of individuals, just as in society at large, the profoundest changes take place within a very reduced time frame. When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready.” (paulocoelhoblog.com/2008/05/01/todays-question-by-aart-hilal-61/)
For these past 15 months, our world was rocked by a pandemic and our lives were changed in ways no one expected; our courage, resiliency and patience were tested as we invented new ways to work, socialize, learn and “keep in touch” when we weren't allowed to touch. Over half a million loved ones succumbed to the disease, and thousands more will live with the after-effects of “long- Covid.” With the help of new vaccines, and by the heroism of countless health workers, we are gradually emerging, as if from a cocoon, to enjoy this springtime with hope and gratitude for our blessings. But in many places around the world, this emergence is being delayed by new more deadly strains, and by sharp surges in cases and by lack of medical supplies. We are led to ask ourselves the important questions: What is my life’s purpose? Who will be my partners along my life’s path? How can I make a difference to family, society, the world?
As I look back over passages I highlighted as I read Veronika Decides to Die, I see other questions: “In a world where everyone struggles to survive whatever the cost, how does one judge those people who decide to die? …No one can judge. Each person knows the extent of their own suffering or the total absence of meaning in their lives.”
There is much about madness in this book, fitting for a world many think has gone crazy. “…people only go insane when they try to escape from routine. Do you understand?”
And there is much about risk-taking: “Live. If you live, God will live with you. If you refuse to run his risks, he’ll retreat to that distant heaven and be merely a subject for philosophical speculation.”
Whether you’re feeling ‘in a rut’ and need a little redemption, or are a long-time fan of Coelho’s books, I think you’ll enjoy Veronika’s journey.
*I didn’t know it when I picked it up, but this is the second book of a trilogy entitled And on the Seventh Day, which starts with another favorite of mine By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, and concludes with The Devil and Miss Prym. There is no need to read them in any particular order.
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has managed the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for over 4 years.