When Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist) was a young man, his parents had him committed to mental hospitals three times because he wanted to be an artist–an unacceptable profession in Brazil at the time.
During his numerous forced incarcerations he vowed to write some day about his experiences and the injustices of involuntary commitment. In this fable-like novel, Coelho makes good on his promise, with the creation of a fictional character named Veronika who decides to kill herself when faced with all that is wrong with the world and how powerless she feels to change anything. Although she survives her initial suicide attempt, she is committed to a mental hospital where she begins to wrestle with the meaning of mental illness and whether forced drugging should be inflicted on patients who don’t fit into the narrow definition of “normal.” The strength and tragedy of Veronika’s fictional story was instrumental in passing new government regulations in Brazil that have made it more difficult to have a person involuntarily committed. Like any great storyteller, Coelho has used the realm of fiction to magically infiltrate and alter the realm of reality.